Is JobKeeper good for us?

April 10, 2020

JobKeeper is a thinly disguised handout to businesses and not the assistance package that was promised to keep working people afloat.

While it will help many people in the short-term, working people and the unemployed will be paying for this assistance package for years to come through an austerity program aimed at reducing the deficit created by these enormous handouts to companies.

To qualify for JobKeeper, a company must show that it has taken a 30% downturn in turnover since the beginning of the declared COVID-19 crisis.

Once proven, an allowance of $750 a week per worker is paid directly to the company. The company is only obliged to pass on the allowance to workers who have been stood down, are not working or are taking home less than $750.

The $750 for all their other employees goes directly into the company’s coffers.

Why should workers' taxes go to pay these companies a handout worth billions of dollars for active, profit-making employees?

The second rort is that, if directed by the boss, the employee must take up to two weeks of their own leave. While the employee is on that leave, the boss still receives their $750 a week. Why should the taxpayer subsidise the company for leave that was accrued during profitable times?

The third rort is that the boss can direct workers to work fewer days and fewer hours. For example, they can reduce workers’ hours to total $750 worth of work a week. For high-paid workers with good union conditions, this would amount to a pay cut.

Almost all companies that qualify for JobKeeper have stood down employees. The federal government has back-dated the allowance, which sounds good on face value. But these stood-down employees will be invited back to work and must attend to get their $750. Meanwhile, other employees will have their hours cut.

To to rub salt into the wound, the employee must work wherever the boss wants them to work — even at another workplace.

This will allow smart bosses, who have the capacity, to transfer large amounts — maybe almost all — of their wages bill onto the taxpayer.

Let us not forget about the billions of dollars in handouts to corporation giants such as Qantas and Virgin. This is another gift from our taxes.

After billions of dollars of handouts to the corporations and companies, workers will be hit with a massive austerity program. There are already suggestions that company tax will be reduced on a permanent basis to “kick start” the economy after we are through the pandemic.

A future austerity program will most likely include wage restraint or wage cuts, higher PAYE and Goods and Services taxes, and a huge reduction to social services.

We may even be told that more services need to be privatised and more of our public assets sold off.

We need an assistance package that addresses our real needs, not one that is designed to give unnecessary handouts to companies.

The JobKeeper allowance should go directly to workers who have been stood down, retrenched or who have had their hours shortened, rather than through companies. Corporations and companies, not the taxpayer, should pick up the wages bill for productive employees and the bills for accumulated leave entitlements.

Some are concerned that if the JobKeeper allowance bypasses the company and goes direct to the employee, the company will simply terminate the worker.

But if they do that they will have to pay out redundancy payments, which they want to avoid. 

There is no JobKeeper allowance for casuals who have been employed for less than 12 months — another problem with the scheme.

Most of the workers who are joining the dole queues are these casuals, people working for companies with less than 15 employees and companies that have already gone bust.

Many companies that are still viable have either forced their workers to take annual leave or shortened their hours, rather than paying out retrenchments. There is no guarantee that they will continue to employ people. Once the subsidy runs out there will likely be mass sackings from the companies that will only keep the labour they need.

A direct payment should also be made to all unemployed casuals and immigrant workers. The decision to exclude them is barbaric and absurd because they will be forced to break isolation restrictions, which may further endanger them and others.

All workers on JobKeeper and others on welfare who are not working should: have their mortgages and loans put on hold, with no accumulation in interest; their rent suspended, not accumulated; and their utility bills and council rates frozen, not merely deferred.

Finally, why would workers, through our taxes, want to give billions of dollars to vital industries such as the airline industry? Wouldn’t nationalisation be cheaper and more efficient?

Let’s stop governments and business rorting the system at our expense.

[Mick Bull is a long-time union activist.]

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