The Guardian • Issue #1971

Bring back Jobkeeper!

Thousands of workers face a substantial loss of income with the extension of lockdowns in Victoria and NSW and a new one in South Australia. Pressure is mounting from trade unions, employers, and  on the government to bring back JobKeeper. The form and amount of the present emergency support for workers fall far short of what is required.

JobKeeper should never have been removed. Prior to being wound down and eventually abolished, it paid workers $1,500 a fortnight. Employers could apply if their income fell by thirty per cent or more compared with the previous year. Importantly, it retained the link between employer and employee. It was this link that enabled the economy to pick up so quickly as lockdowns were lifted. Jobs in many sectors could be immediately restored.

The new payment, for workers who have lost twenty or more hours work, is $600 per week. For those who have lost between eight and twenty hours the payment is $375. It is paid directly to workers via the myGov website. There is no link to their employer. Employers are also entitled to assistance from the government under a different scheme.

$600 is barely enough to pay the rent on a family home in the western suburbs, and $375 is below the poverty line. Workers in higher paid jobs such as construction often have a mortgage or rental payments and other commitments in line with their incomes.

The JobSeeker supplement that was introduced saw the unemployed paid $1,130 per fortnight. It was also phased out, and today the payment is a punitive, below-subsistence level of $565.70 a fortnight or $282.85 a week.

“With lockdowns now in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, over one million people, including hundreds of thousands of children, are excluded from the Federal Government’s COVID Disaster Payments because they are on a social security payment, even though many have lost part-time paid work,” the Australian Council of Social Security (ACOSS) said.

“We’re talking about people on the lowest incomes in the country being excluded by the Federal Government from its financial support package in response to the lockdowns,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“These are students, older women, single parents who have been hit hard by this pandemic again and again – how will they keep a roof over their heads or food on the table?

“Many have lost part-time paid work that they relied on to cover the rent, with social security payments like JobSeeker and Youth Allowance being well below the poverty line.”

“This is a public health issue – people can’t stay home in lockdown if they lose their home because they cannot afford to keep it,” Goldie concluded.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stubbornly refuse to restore JobKeeper or increase JobSeeker and the Youth Allowance. Instead, they treat the victims of the pandemic as though it is their fault. The government should take responsibility for its failure to acquire sufficient vaccines, establish dedicated quarantine facilities, and organise an orderly and efficient vaccine rollout in line with the original priority list.

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