More than $200 billion in support, but these small businesses still miss out

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As hundreds of thousands of businesses suffer through the coronavirus shutdown, the Federal Government’s stimulus packages represent a much-needed lifeline. But for many it offers little or no relief.

Key points:

  • The JobKeeper scheme covers all full-time staff as well as part-time and casual employees
  • It excludes casuals who have not been with their employer for more than 12 months
  • Business owners are calling for immediate stage four restrictions which would help save their businesses

More than 270,000 businesses and sole traders flocked to the tax office as of Tuesday this week to apply for the Government’s $130 billion JobKeeper package.

It represents a vital cash injection for struggling businesses facing the tough decision to let staff go during the economic downturn.

But for new businesses which rely on a casual workforce the scheme offers no support.

“It’s disappointing my staff will miss out just because we’re a new, small business,” said Nathan Stratton, owner of Wollongong bar La La Las.

“It seems to be just bad luck or bad timing, which I don’t think is very fair.”

The JobKeeper scheme covers all full-time staff as well as part-time and casual employees — provided they have been in their jobs for longer than a year.

To be eligible for JobKeeper:

  • You are currently employed (including those stood down or re-hired) by an eligible employer
  • You were employed by the employer at March 1, 2020
  • You are full-time, part-time, or long-term casuals (a casual employed on a regular basis for longer than 12 months as at March 1, 2020)
  • You are at least 16 years of age
  • You are an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, a Protected Special Category Visa holder, a non-protected Special Category Visa holder who has been residing continually in Australia for 10 years or more, or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa holder
  • You are not in receipt of a JobKeeper Payment from another employer

Source: JobSeeker v JobKeeper explained, information correct as at April 2, 2020

La La Las opened its doors last November, meaning none of its nine casual staff will meet the benchmark to receive the $1,500 a fortnight wage subsidy.

“I’ve left jobs to start this business and a lot of my staff have made sacrifices to start this business with me as well and it’s unfair that they miss out just because they chose to take a chance on me,” Mr Stratton said.

“They’re already working under tough conditions where they don’t have much security. It’s a bit of a disappointment that they won’t get anything.”

He said the scheme fails to assist new businesses which are often the most susceptible to economic pressures.

“New businesses have it particularly difficult in the first 12 to 24 months regardless, so we certainly need the Government support to get us through to the other side,” Mr Stratton said.

New South Wales Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Whitlam said the package needed tweaking to cater for some vulnerable workers.

“Obviously there are some gaps in the program. Casuals who haven’t been working for a long period of time with their employers is one,” he said.

“We also have around a million overseas workers in the country at the moment who are out of work and can’t get home.”

Calls for total shutdown

Even some who do qualify for the wage subsidy are finding it will do little to buffer the outbreak’s economic impact.

Thirroul tattooist, Wayne Cartwright, has called for immediate stage four restrictions — the only measure he said could save his store.

“Everyone I speak to says the same thing — shut it down now,” Mr Cartwright said.

“The road is far, far too long for small businesses and stretching it out like this will send a lot of us broke.

“A total shutdown would mean in a few months, maybe, I could start getting some customers back and try to save the business.”

Mr Cartwright lost all his tattoo artists when the outbreak began and has only one barber eligible for JobKeeper payments.

He has called for banks to freeze mortgage repayments and interest rates for small business owners while their stores are shut.

“We are in this position through no fault of our own,” Mr Cartwright said.

“I have a mortgage on my home, and my store, so I’m in a lot of trouble.

“I’m really worried about losing everything. I’m in my fifties so there would be no coming back for me.”

Mr Cartwright said there were lots of businesses in the community who think the payments are “too little too late”.

“The damage has already been done for many of us before this wage support,” he said.

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