The Morrison government responded to public pressure on Friday to expand the JobKeeper payment scheme to a greater volume of workers, as well as extending the program’s expiry date to March 2021 – although the payment rate is being reduced and a lower payment rate is being introduced for those working a limited number of hours, as previously announced by federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
However, Sally McManus, the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) national secretary, points out for as well-intentioned the government’s revision of the much-maligned scheme is, those revisions do not extend far enough.
According to McManus on behalf of the ACTU, only relatively small percentages of casual workers and those on visas are included in the changes – leaving most workers from those categories with no change in status from when JobKeeper was unveiled in late March.
And moreover, McManus has taken society-over-economy and no-worker-left-behind approaches towards the likely impact of those changes, with the objective remaining to slow and stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“The outbreak in Victoria has shown us again that insecure workers are the most vulnerable during this crisis, and need to be supported so that they can protect themselves and the community,” McManus said on Friday.
An examination of the casual workforce statistics reveals that the long-term casuals coming into the fold on the JobKeeper revision confirms the ACTU’s claim that a significant amount of the casual workforce remains excluded from the scheme.
Two million workers are currently classified as casuals, as attributed by the ACTU, while the federal government claims that overall, roughly one worker in every four is classified as a casual worker.
That latter study also cites that among the casual workforce – in a case where this group could, in the context of the JobKeeper expansion, become poisoned by its own chalice – one million of those workers had been with their employers for 12 months or less, and that the demographic of 15-to-24-year-olds are more likely to be members of the casual workforce.
Within that demographic, 26.4 per cent of those had been with their current employer for 12 months or less, while 46 per cent of all casual workers exist as being of the short-term variety.
As for the Special Category Visa subclass 444 visa holders, the Department of Home Affairs defines that class of visa holder as one who is permitted to “to visit, study, stay and work [in Australia] as long as [one] remains a New Zealand citizen” merely by presenting a valid New Zealand passport and an incoming passenger card upon entry into Australia – thereby making quite limited in scope as to who can qualify for the JobKeeper scheme under visa provisions as a whole.
While the subclass 444 visa holders constitute the largest group of Australian temporary residents via a 2019 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the impact of those working and holding the Temporary Skill Shortage (subclass 482) – which replaced the old subclass 457 visa in 2018 – cannot be underestimated as those workers face uncertain futures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, underemployment, visa expiry, deportation, and other factors having a domino effect.
These analyses thereby justifies the ACTU’s position that the revision of the JobKeeper scheme isn’t ranging far enough – and the body which governs unions in Australia remains resolute to push for these benefits to all workers, whether they are union members or not.
“People on work visas have been excluded from JobSeeker and JobKeeper. They have nothing, so they are desperate for work,” McManus said.
“This makes it more likely they will be working, some while sick, in our essential services like meat processing and aged care,” she added.
McManus also stated that the JobKeeper scheme only exists as one such piece of a puzzle to accommodate casuals, visa holders, and any workers previously left behind, pointing to a continued push for a national paid pandemic leave program to be installed alongside another revision to JobKeeper.
“We need to expand JobKeeper to casuals and visa workers, and make federally-funded paid pandemic leave available to all working people,” said McManus.
But above all else, McManus and the ACTU point towards the human impact emanating from the shortcomings of the Morrison government’s revisions of the JobKeeper scheme, no matter how well-intentioned they are.
And they are concerned with the actions of human nature and basic sociology connected in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the workforce around it.
“If we do not treat all workers equally, some will be more desperate and take more risks. This will only create opportunities for the virus to spread,” said McManus.
Also by William Olson:
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