Retail giant Myer was forced to close its doors and stand down about 10,000 staff. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Retail giant Myer was forced to close its doors and stand down about 10,000 staff. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

100k businesses rush for $1500 payments

The government's wage subsidy package has been hailed as a "country-changing moment" and endorsed on nearly all sides of politics, business and unions.

More than 110,000 businesses had already applied for the stimulus after the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the plan on Monday afternoon.

Under the $130 billion JobKeeper package, workers who have been in their position for at least a year will be paid $1500 from their employer per fortnight for six months.

"This is a country-changing moment," Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott told Nine's Today this morning.

"This will allow people to keep their businesses going, to restructure their businesses and rebound the economy and rebound their business and keep those people in work when this crisis is over."

"This is just an injection of hope into this country and it's the hope and confidence that we needed."

Mr Frydenberg said the package to be offered to six million workers had never been seen in before in Australia while Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said it was an "eye-watering" cash splash.

But most agree the massive spend, which is more than 16 per cent of the country's GDP, is vitally important as the coronavirus-induced lockdown cripples industries and grinds the economy to a halt.

Deloitte Australia economist Chris Richardson told news.com.au the JobKeeper package would likely save half a million jobs.

"We know that unemployment goes up fast and comes down slow," he said, and if the rise can be reduced there are "lifetime savings" to be gained.

"We know that if you lose your job in a recession, you don't get it back in the following two years," Mr Richardson said. "You're essentially left on the job scrap heap for life.

Lines of people outside Surry Hills Centrelink as the COVID-19 pandemic causes massive job losses. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Lines of people outside Surry Hills Centrelink as the COVID-19 pandemic causes massive job losses. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

 

"The long tail of costs from high unemployment is massive and if you can nip it in the bud, or as much as it as you can, that's money really well spent."

The leading economist said the government was leaving "no stone unturned" by throwing the "kitchen sink" at the destructive economic and social issues that come with high unemployment.

"Doing too little is an incredibly costly mistake to make," he said.

"If we're looking back in a couple of years and saying 'we did too much in this crisis', then count me happy.

"We've got a crisis that's been growing at the remarkable rate of four times every week.

"We've never seen a crisis unfold at this speed."

The population retreating indoors to slow the spread of the pandemic has battered an already struggling retail sector, which has contributed a large portion of the more than 100,000 workers to be stood down over the past week.

Dozens of chains have temporarily pulled up stumps in an attempt to cope with the unique trading challenges, including Kathmandu, Smiggle, Mecca, Platypus, Hype and Athlete's Foot.

Retail giant Myer closed its stores and stood down about 10,000 staff without pay in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Retail giant Myer closed its stores and stood down about 10,000 staff without pay in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

 

The subsidy scheme is "proportional and sensible", according to National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb.

"It will deliver help to businesses who need it the most, and it will ensure workers can continue providing for themselves and their dependants," she said.

"We applaud the decision to make this available also to sole traders, who make up a large proportion of the modern Australian retail landscape."

Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner, who was recently forced to stand down thousands of employees, hesitated to commit to signing on the scheme.

"It's a very positive step … but only 45 per cent of our business is in Australia," Mr Turner told ABC.

"Hibernation is a catchy word. Going to sleep and waking up in the spring time is just not feasible from a business point of view."

He said more help was needed from government.

New Zealanders on temporary working 444 visas and migrants eligible for welfare are also included.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said some countries would face economic collapse or hollowing out in coming months as the disease spreads globally. Parliament could sit as early as next week to pass legislation related to the new JobKeeper payment, with Labor likely to back the overall package, which unions and business groups support.

The $1500 per fortnight payment amounts to about 70 per cent of the median wage, which ACTU secretary Sally McManus said was welcome but may not be enough.

"We believe that allowing this amount to increase up to the median wage of $1375 a week is what is needed." Ms McManus also raised concerns for casuals who had worked for the same employer for less than 12 months and who were not covered by the scheme.

- with AAP

Originally published as 100k businesses rush for $1500 payments


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