There are obviously critical challenges currently facing employees and large and small business with severe pressure on businesses and jobs and the capacity of individuals and families to meet their normal living expenses.
On 19 March, the RBA announced a 0.25% cut to the official cash rate in response to the severe impact the virus is having on the Australian economy. Reserve Bank Governor Philip Low said “The coronavirus is first and foremost a public health issue, but it is also having a very major impact on the economy and the financial system. The primary response to the virus is to manage the health of the population, but other arms of policy, including monetary and fiscal policy, play an important role in reducing the economic and financial disruption resulting from the virus.”
Even with the fiscal package, the state of the economy over the coming 12 months is uncertain with KPMG modelling suggesting a minimum 0.9% likely to be wiped off GDP in 2020. Unemployment will inevitably rise and wages growth and underlying inflation are likely to fall to record lows.
In spite of the extreme seriousness of the situation, we have seen some positives. Some major Australian companies and small businesses have promised to support casual workers and other workers without leave entitlements who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Employers who have agreed to 2 weeks paid special leave include Telstra, Thales, Atlassian, Australia Post, Queensland Rail, the WA Government, BAE Systems, Metro Trains, Melbourne Water and Brisbane City Council. The Australian Public Service Commission has made a similar commitment for federal public servants as have a number of state governments.
The pandemic is also showing people that expertise matters, that policy decisions need to be made through a reasoned process and developed in line with evidence-based science and that it is essential that information for the public on the virus comes from sources that are credible. There is also a firmly reinstated public respect for expertise in public health and for the important role of government intervention and services in supporting a population in times of public health crisis.
As STEM professionals, our members play a critical role in utilising technologies and science-based critical thinking for the greater good. Your union is here to be a critical part of your support network as you continue to do this. Our office is fully operational with staff remote working arrangements and longer-term plans in place. We can provide not only general information about the impact of the virus on the workforce, but personalised advice on your particular rights at work as employers roll out a range of strategies to deal with Covid-19. In this challenging period, it is critical that we work together.
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- The impact on the aviation industry is severe with flight cutbacks and large-scale redundancies for the workforce inevitable – Qantas has stood down 20,000 of its 30,000 employees for at least 10 weeks. Regional carrier Rex has largely closed down. State border closures likely to further impact. Regional passenger numbers expected to decline by around 80%. Coronavirus-driven cuts in domestic flights are hindering the movement of FIFO workers, causing some mining operations to look at special charter flights.
- The shutdown of licensed premises, restaurants and catering is having a huge impact on the national workforce of 250,000 and millions of patrons. Around a million hospitality workers are facing cuts to their hours, being stood down, or losing their jobs.
- Australian retail, the largest private sector employer in Australia, with 1.3 million people – many of them younger Australians, women, and seniors – is being hard hit with the collapse in consumer spending.
- Public transport is obviously a key area – the RBTU says the industry is considering all options, including the use of more carriages on trains so passengers can sit further apart, or scaling-back operations. The union acknowledges that public transport is an essential service but also that the risk of transmission is no less likely because the industry is essential. The public transport network remains one of the highest risk locations for contagion but it’s also critical to keeping the economy moving.
- Telstra will suspend further job reductions for the next six months while recruiting an extra 1000 temporary contractors to help manage call centre volumes.
- The impact of coronavirus is likely to be felt in the construction industry in the second half of 2020 in both the commercial and residential sectors. Unions and employers in the Victorian construction sector have developed a “partnership statement” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, The CFMMEU and Masters Builders Victoria have asked the Andrews government to consult with them if closures are to be ordered by the State’s chief medical officer.
- Village Roadshow has responded to the closure of cinemas and theme parks by asking all employees to take leave and immediately reducing executives’ salaries.
- Uber and Deliveroo have both confirmed that they will provide financial support for drivers and riders diagnosed with coronavirus or placed in quarantine by a public health authority. Uber’s Rides and Platform senior vice president Andrew Macdonald said in a statement today that the company will provide up to 14 days’ compensation for drivers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine by a public health authority.
- ACTU and unions are campaigning for 2 weeks’ paid leave for all workers (permanent, casual or contractor) forced to self-isolate due to COVID-19. Some businesses have agreed to provide special paid sick leave arrangements for casuals in this situation.
- Meetings are occurring between senior union leaders and senior business leaders to see if they can reach agreement around the types of things in specific awards that might be able to be modified through existing processes provided for in the Act to save jobs.
- Unions are pushing for UK-style wage subsidies and have sought guarantees that employers will pass on taxpayer support but Treasury has recommended against taking those measures because they would require a redesign of delivery mechanism.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil says the stimulus measures announced by the Federal Government “do not go far enough” to support workers’ incomes. She said the measures would not be provided quickly enough, “but also they don’t provide enough assistance to keep workers in jobs and keep incomes flowing’. O’Neil said other countries had introduced coronavirus response packages that were “much faster, much more direct and much more comprehensive in supporting workers, jobs and employment” citing the changes in the Jobseeker payment (doubling of the payment), which won’t take effect until the end of April, while the second $750 in cash for those entitled won’t be available until mid-April. “Workers need that money in their pockets now,” she said.