Data from a Unions NSW survey of 3700 migrant workers shown exclusively to this masthead revealed half had lost their jobs because of coronavirus. Fewer than 2 per cent had accessed help, whether charitable or from the government, and 43 per cent were skipping meals out of financial necessity.
“The federal government must urgently expand both the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs to temporary migrants, many of whom are already slipping into poverty and have limited healthcare, if any at all,” Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said. “Putting hundreds of thousands of people on the breadline is deeply immoral at the best of times.”
Permanent workers, sole traders and casuals of more than 12 months’ standing who are Australian citizens or residents, or from New Zealand, will get JobKeeper.
All others will not get the payment, which is already forecast to cost $130 billion. There are more than 1.1 million migrant workers in Australia, many working in shutdown industries like hospitality and retail.
With most international flights from Australia cancelled, the options most have to leave are limited.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Association, said “nothing the government has announced helps them at all”. Mr Lambert said he was lobbying the government to change the JobKeeper payment to help migrant workers.
“Many can’t return home and are now stranded here with practically nothing, they still have rents to pay and they need to survive,” Mr Lambert said.
Nashla Martija, a chef at TGI Fridays in Sydney who has lived in Australia for four years after moving from the Philippines, was stood down when the restaurant closed and is devastated.
“I came here on my own, making something out of nothing and then it all gets taken away from you because of coronavirus,” said Ms Martija, who is on a temporary visa.
“This is home for me already, Australia is my home.”
At Miss Kuku on Melbourne’s Chapel Street, Australian staff voted to stand down so their migrant workers colleagues could keep working the handful of shifts still available when the business pivoted to takeaway.
But owner Paul Kasteel is afraid he will have to close the business for good if government help is not extended to visa workers.
“We did $900 in sales last week, and that’s before Uber and Deliveroo have taken their 30 per cent cut,” Mr Kasteel said. “And I spent $2500 on wages.”
“I can tell you I’m not taking a cracker and my general manager isn’t taking a cracker either. It’s not looking good for us unless we can make it busier.”
Asked earlier this week whether people on visas could be included in JobSeeker, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the “short answer is no” but the government was considering the issue.
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Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.