The federal government is teasing a new version of wage and income support for post-lockdown Victoria, with the JobKeeper program to end just weeks after Melbourne emerges from its six-week stay-home order.
The JobKeeper program – which subsidises workers’ wages by up to $1500 a fortnight – is due to end in late September.
That will be just weeks after lockdowns that begin in metropolitan Melbourne on Wednesday are scheduled to end – giving COVID-battered businesses only weeks of wages help before the subsidy is scheduled to finish.
The increased rate of the JobSeeker welfare payment is also due to revert to its lower original rate about the same time, the federal government having set a hard timeframe of six months for both programs.
But upon the announcement of the new lockdowns in Melbourne, business and community groups immediately called for that timetable to be extended, and for extra support to be handed to Victorians.
Luke Hilakari, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall, called on the Morrison government to extend JobKeeper. He also claimed some bosses were “underprepared” to help employees work from home during the first round of lockdowns, and said lessons should be learnt as the second round begins.
“Now more than ever it’s crucial that JobKeeper is extended beyond the arbitrary September cut-off date. It should also be expanded to include all migrant and casual workers who have been locked out,” he told The New Daily.
“This time around, we expect employers to have measures in place to provide the right equipment. They should be offering two-weeks paid pandemic leave and flexible work arrangements for those who have caring responsibilities.”
Mr Hilakari also wanted JobSeeker to remain at its increased rate.
“It’s estimated there are 12 people applying for every available job. Without continued support, we’re staring down the barrel of an economic disaster when the support that is currently available is withdrawn,” he said.
The federal government has stopped short of promising to extend JobKeeper, but pledged some form of extra ongoing support was incoming. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison both said on Wednesday that more would be revealed in a July 23 economic update.
“There will be another phase of income support. It will be targeted, it will be temporary, it will be designed to get help to people who need it most,” the Treasurer told ABC Radio.
He added “of course the situation in Victoria means that that state will be behind others in the recovery”, saying the new lockdowns could cost the state $1 billion a week.
Later Mr Morrison confirmed “there will continue to be support” beyond September, and that “the need [in Victoria] will be far greater than was previously and that need will be met”, but did not detail the specifics.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, Paul Guerra, called for JobKeeper to be extended for two more months, warning “this will be the final straw for some” businesses.
CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services, Cassandra Goldie, said she hoped to see continuing support for Victorians beyond the scheduled September cut-off.
“More people than ever before will struggle to find paid work,” she said.
“We can’t turn back in September – or ever – to the brutality of people struggling to survive on $40 a day. This is not enough to live on, let alone to cover the basics, such as housing, food, bills, and transport.”
Ms Goldie’s Melbourne counterpart, Emma King of the Victorian Council of Social Service, said support for both supplements “must be continued”.
“It’s completely infeasible to be winding down support for Victorians just as the virus is rearing its head again,” she said.
“A Melbourne lockdown means businesses closing their doors once more. It means kids’ schooling in limbo. It means more people in isolation and hardship.”
“Now is the time to be doing more, not less.”