Business groups seek ongoing virus support

Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Influential business groups have called for wage subsidies to be extended across targeted sectors beyond the September cut-off.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry wants the federal government to keep JobKeeper going for tourism and events businesses feeling ongoing pain.

“Although the unemployment figures released last week are alarming, they would have been undoubtedly worse without JobKeeper in place,” ACCI chief executive James Pearson told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

The scheme gives eligible businesses $1500 a fortnight to pass on to workers to keep them linked to jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Business Council of Australia believes a targeted stepping down of JobKeeper is needed for sectors being hurt by restrictions after September.

BCA chief executive Tim Reed said all businesses should be forced to requalify for the test around falls in revenue.

He also wants a review of workers receiving more through subsidies than their ordinary wage.

“We think a very targeted stepping down of the program is warranted,” Mr Reed said.

Mr Pearson said a program giving employers a 50 per cent wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees should also be extended beyond September.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said there was still time to assess the need for further changes to JobKeeper, which is being reviewed.

“A lot of businesses have their eye very firmly on the end of September, a period which we perceive to be the next time of great risk,” he told the coronavirus response inquiry.

He said businesses would need support and advice to manage cashflow once the wage subsidy payments stopped.

“For a lot of small businesses, to have that rug pulled from under them or that support pulled from under them will be quite devastating,” Mr Willox said.

The powerful business lobby groups have advised government throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Willox said the JobSeeker unemployment payment – boosted to $1100 a fortnight during the crisis – could not go back to its old rate of $40 a day.

“There will need to be stronger support for people,” he said.

Mr Reed said the dole should be raised to be between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of the aged pension, with the pre-coronavirus rate of 65 per cent too low.

“I think it is very difficult for an Australian to live on the rate it is today,” he said.

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