News Politics Push to help workers suffering in the ‘state of disaster’
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Push to help workers suffering in the ‘state of disaster’

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews sees a distant light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Photo: AAP
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Victoria is facing six weeks of the nation’s toughest coronavirus restrictions, a move that signals yet more instability and uncertainty for workers.

But both the federal and state governments have signalled there is no need to panic – yet.

Daniel Andrews flagged more announcements would be made on Monday, hinting the Prime Minister had discussed with him “income support” for workers and potentially more “cash flow support” for businesses.

“We also recognise that workplaces continue to be the site of many of our cases,” Mr Andrews said.

“Today, I’ve made some announcements that change how Victorians will live – tomorrow, I’ll have more to say about the way Victorians need to work.

“I know that will cause a certain level of anxiety and uncertainty. But the truth is, this is complex – and we’re going to take some extra time to make sure we get these calls right.”

The assurances have done little to curb anxiety, with employees in “non-essential” businesses heading to work on Monday morning unsure if they will still be required later this week.

While acknowledging the drastic moves were necessary, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce said they would undoubtedly mean the end for many businesses.

Early childcare educators are among the workers unsure of their fate, with the United Workers Union calling on the Victorian and federal governments to immediately guarantee wages.

United Workers Union Early Childhood Education and Care Director Helen Gibbons said: “This is a completely unacceptable position to leave early childhood educators in: with no idea if they will be able to provide for themselves and their families next week.

“Throughout this period of uncertainty, educators have kept coming to work every day to provide support for children and families.

“Instead of recognising and valuing their contribution, last month the Federal Government singled out early education as the only sector to lose the wage support of JobKeeper.”

Discussions on JobKeeper

Victoria’s Chamber of Commerce Director Paul Guerra said businesses would need additional support through JobKeeper “at the very least”.

On Sunday, a senior federal cabinet minister confirmed the government had not ruled out the need for the recently announced changes to the wage support system to be re-examined.

As federal Labor called for the Morrison government to take Victoria’s woes into consideration and re-examine its policies, Mr Andrews said he was “encouraged” by conversations with Scott Morrison.

“I’ve had communications with the Prime Minister throughout the weekend and we spoke at length this morning,” he said, ending a lengthy press conference on the curfew and lockdowns.

“We’re going to continue our discussions and if there are other areas where there are anomalies and businesses might not or workers might not qualify for those payments when clearly they should, then we will continue to work through those issues.

“I was very encouraged by the Prime Minister’s partnership and his sense we’re all in this together and providing support, particularly income support and potentially cash flow support beyond that for businesses.”

JobKeeper is being extended beyond its legislated cut-off date in September, but it will be cut from $1500 to $1200 a fortnight and halved to $750 for those working less than 20 hours a week.

But the announcement on those changes was made before Australia recorded some of its worst coronavirus figures amid a second wave in Victoria.

On Sunday, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers called on the government to re-examine JobKeeper.

“The rate should be tapered at some point, but clearly the developments in the economy in the last couple of weeks since the budget was updated warrants a reconsideration of that,” Dr Chalmers said on ABC TV’s Insiders.

Dr Chalmers said the JobKeeper payment can’t go on forever, but neither should it be withdrawn too quickly.

“We think that the developments since the announcements were made on JobKeeper a couple of weeks ago do warrant another look,” he said.

“The decisions they took on JobKeeper were based on some pretty rosy assumptions about restrictions in Victoria actually easing, rather than becoming more restrictive and tighter.”

Education Minister Dan Tehan, who is a Victorian, said the spike in infections was having devastating economic and health consequences.

“JobKeeper obviously runs at the current levels through till the end of September and we’ll continue to monitor the situation and we’ll look at measures as necessary,” Mr Tehan told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.

“As we watch, monitor and understand the impact of this second Victorian wave, we’ll obviously provide the support as necessary.”

Labor is also arguing the case for a paid pandemic leave scheme for those people who have either run out of sick leave and are forced to stay away through infection or for the 3.7 million Australians who are not entitled to any leave.

Dr Chalmers said while some employers are providing some sort of support, the commonwealth should also step in to fill the gap.

“It’s time for the government to stop sitting on their hands here and to bring into being a system of paid pandemic leave so that people aren’t forced to make that choice between feeding their loved ones or doing the right thing by their co-workers,” he said.

“Every day of delay here is deadly.”

-with AAP