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83,000 casual jobs in Victoria at risk as shutdown and jobkeeper exclusions bite

Paul Karp
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/EPA</span>
Photograph: James Ross/EPA

Up to 83,000 jobs in Victoria are at risk due to the combination of stage four lockdown and the exclusion of short-term casuals from the federal jobkeeper wage subsidy, according to an analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

The analysis by the Greens of the most recent 2019 data finds there are 45,900 retail workers, 20,500 manufacturing workers and 16,700 construction workers in Victoria in casual employment with less than 12 months service, the cutoff for the $1,500 fortnightly payment.

Those workers are a subset of the 250,000 Victorian workers who the state government estimated would be stood down as a result of stage four lockdowns to contain the second coronavirus wave.

Related: 'I feel I will never get another job': Australian readers on searching for work in the Covid recession

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, seized on the figure that 83,000 short-term casuals are in industries subject to shutdowns, warning they “will be forced into unemployment because the government continues to deny them access to jobkeeper”.

The true number could be slightly lower due to continuing trade in essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations, and some limited activity in the construction sector.

Since its inception in March, unions, Labor, the Greens and some employer groups lobbied the government to extend jobkeeper to short-term casuals. The calls were rebuffed even after the government discovered the scheme was set to cost $60bn less than projected.

The most recent round of changes in July will further slash the payment to $1,200 from late September then $1,000 from January, with lower rates to apply for part-time workers doing less than 20 hours a week.

The government has signalled it could ease eligibility for businesses which recovered in the June quarter but suffered again in the September quarter.

Bandt said the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, can amend the jobkeeper rules to include short-term casuals “at the stroke of a pen”.

“As the pandemic takes hold for a second time, tens of thousands of workers are paying the price for the Liberals’ refusal to extend the scheme,” he said.

“These workers have battled through insecure pay, a lack of paid sick leave, and now with many of their employers closing their doors, they’ll be forced out of paid work.”

Major business groups met the Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas on Wednesday evening in an urgent attempt to overhaul the looming Covid-19 restrictions that they fear will disrupt not only local businesses, but national supply chains.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group also appealed to the Morrison government late on Tuesday to help convey their frustration and confusion to the Victorian government ahead of the imminent business lockdown in the state.

Labor has also used the Victorian shutdown to lobby the federal government for an extension of wage subsidies and reversal of cuts announced in July after the treasury review.

Related: Business groups fear Victoria's Covid-19 restrictions will disrupt national supply chains

On Monday the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese said “a number of people were left behind when jobkeeper was announced”.

“We want to make sure that more people are not left behind as a result of the [July] changes … and they should revisit that announcement.”

On Wednesday the social services minister, Anne Ruston, urged the 250,000 Victorians out of work to test their eligibility for payments on the Services Australia website.

“And it’s not just for people who’ve lost their jobs,” she told Sky News. “If people find themselves with insecure work or they’ve had reduced hours or reduced income they may also be eligible for receiving some payment.”