Businesses and unions call for COVID lockdown support to flow quickly

Help needed quickly: A very quiet Crown Street Mall. Picture: Anna Warr.
Help needed quickly: A very quiet Crown Street Mall. Picture: Anna Warr.

Businesses and unions were keen for Federal and NSW Government support announced on Tuesday to start flowing quickly

Business Illawarra executive director Adam Zarth said the package for businesses and workers for the duration of the lockdown, will provide confidence to Illawarra businesses as they face enormous challenges and uncertainty.

"I think the most important thing coming off this announcement is how quickly it will be delivered," Mr Zarth said.

"We have seen a very welcome extension of the NSW business grants for the third lockdown. And of course that has been followed by cash payments for businesses and payments for employees to keep them attached to the businesses they work for."

Those payments are for businesses across NSW with an annual turnover of between $75,000 and $50 million that can demonstrate a 30 per cent reduction in this turnover during lockdown. With the cash boost being 40 per cent of weekly payroll with a payment amount between $1,500 to a maximum of $10,000 per week from week four onwards, provided staffing levels are maintained;

Business Illawarra, based south of Sydney, also welcomed fortnightly grants of $1500 for micro businesses with turnover of between $30,000 and $75,000 that can demonstrate a 30 per cent reduction in turnover where the business is the primary source of income;

And a payroll tax deferral this quarter for all businesses, and a waiver for the quarter if they can demonstrate a 30 per cent reduction in turnover and they have a payroll of between $1.2 and $10 million.

Business Illawarra also welcomed an increase to the payment amount for stood down workers from $500 to $600 per week for those who lost more than 20 hours, and to $375 for those who lost between eight and 20 hours, and for it to be available to workers outside of Sydney lockdown areas;.

As well as several provisions around residential, commercial and retail leases, including no lockouts and forced evictions, and those landlords who provide rent relief will be given land tax reduction incentives.

"We had mixed results from that last time but there is no perfect solution there," Mr Zarth said.

"It is a very difficult dynamic to manage in the context of a pandemic."

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Mr Zarth said keeping businesses going with their employees retained was all important amid the ongoing uncertainty about when the lockdowns will end in the Wollongong and Shellharbour local government areas.

"What is crucial now is for the support money to start flowing as quickly as possible," he said.

"The government has assured business applications will open later this month with the money to be paid days after that.

"In our part of the world, it is important to highlight that as Wollongong and Shellharbour have been in lockdown, the impact on businesses in Kiama, the Shoalhaven and the Southern Highlands has also been immense, as they've missed out on the strong school holiday trade, as well as a lack of forward bookings.

"This support will give business owners the opportunity to retain their staff and give them the best chance to rebound their operations when the lockdown finishes."

Mr Zarth said the payroll tax relief announced by the NSW Government was something Business Illawarra was always going to welcome to lift the burden on businesses not just in Wollongong and Shellharbour but other local government areas such as Kiama which are also being significantly impacted by the lockdown.

The South Coast Labour Council had earlier in the day called for immediate assistance to casuals and permanent workers as well as a moratorium on evictions, bank foreclosures and the suspension of utility services such as power, gas and water if households cannot afford to pay during the lockdown.

SCLC secretary Arthur Rorris said the increase in payment for workers was positive but still not enough.

"It is still 20 per cent less than what JobKeeper was and 20 per cent less than the minimum wage," Mr Rorris said.

"It is also disappointing that you have to wait four weeks now. So you have to essentially lose between $2500 and $3000 at least before you qualify for the $600 a week. That doesn't add up.

"What we really want to know is to get some clarity on who it applies to. I would like to think it applies to every worker who had an expectation of full-time or part-time work to be able to apply on that basis and take the Prime Minister at his word."

Mr Rorris said the union movement was pleased there appears to have been action on evictions.

"But we haven't heard anything on the requirement of the banks and utilities for example in regard to a moratorium on payments," he said.

"That is particularly important to those who have already lost two or three weeks wages and are unable to pay their bills. And equally so to businesses who have lost their trade."

Mr Rorris said it was important to remember the decision in 2020 to release Superannuation funds was a one-trick-pony and could only be done once.

"We lost $32 billion from the savings of workers in this country to bail out not just themselves but the economy," he said.

"This time round we won't have that. And this time people will have less in their pockets than the minimum wage."

Mr Rorris said that needed to be addressed and if any workers are excluded from the assistance announced on Tuesday that will need to be fixed.

This story Businesses and unions call for COVID lockdown support to flow quickly first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.