Casuals score win in $130 billion JobKeeper package


“We acknowledge there are many people regularly employed casually but may move from employer to employer,” Mr Porter said.

“We’re working on that and listening and so when you see the final draft you will see we are trying to be as inclusive and reasonable as possible.”

The $130 billion JobKeeper scheme offers workers $1500 per fortnight when they keep their connection to an employer, compared to only $1100 per fortnight if they rely on unemployment benefits now known as JobSeeker.

Casual workers can only gain the higher payment if they have worked for one employer for at least one year, but Mr Porter is reconsidering that definition and may allow casuals who worked for multiple employers in that year. Permenant employees qualify for the scheme as long as they were on the books by March 1, 2020.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus is also pushing for a change to the one-year limit and the inclusion of casual workers who have a “firm advance commitment” from an employer.

The scheme would cost an additional $5.7 billion over six months if 1.1 million casual workers collected $400 more each fortnight because they were on JobKeeper rather than JobSeeker.

Government sources told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the definitions were difficult to pin down but were being negotiated to be as flexible as possible.

Mr Porter made it clear the government would not accept the ACTU proposal to make the changes through the 121 awards and 11,000 enterprise agreements because this would be too slow.

“We are pushing a $130 billion lifeboat out into the roughest economic seas Australia has ever seen,” he said.

“And people will need to decide whether or not they’re going to help us push that boat out, but it is going out on Wednesday.”

Mr Porter said the scheme would have a six-month sunset clause to ensure the workplace rules reverted to the current regime when the emergency ended, forcing another vote in Parliament if it was to be extended.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has privately expressed frustration with Labor and the unions for proposing an alternative process, although the government has praised Ms McManus and former Labor cabinet minister Greg Combet for their help.

The government sent draft legislation to the ACTU late on Sunday and expects to consult Labor and crossbench MPs on Monday to outline three options for employers and their staff under the JobKeeper scheme.

In one scenario, workers who were earning less than $1500 per fortnight will automatically see their pay rise to the temporary amount when their employers receive the federal aid.

In the second scenario, workers will earn more than the $1500 because their employers will add to the government payment.

In the third scenario, workers will be asked to accept a fall in their salaries to the JobKeeper amount because their employers cannot afford their usual pay.

The third option requires changes to industrial relations law because companies will need exemptions from awards and agreements on a worker’s hourly rate of pay.

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said he shared Mr Porter’s view that it was faster to amend the Fair Work Act than pursue the ACTU approach.

“Rather than having to negotiate a significant number of enterprise agreements, it might be better to do it in one hit and amend the Fair Work Act,” he said.

The ACTU’s Sally McManus has been pushing for changes to the legislation that would help casuals and visa holders get access to the JobKeeper payments.

“There’s lots of casual workers who may have work that’s on and off but it’s regular – so arts and entertainment, construction industry and those places, or you might have started work this year and come back into the workforce and working irregular hours. Those people need to be covered too,” she said on ABC Insiders on Sunday.

She also criticised the proposal to change the Fair Work Act on the grounds that “some employers might abuse that” if the amendments scaled down workers’ rights.

Labor industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said the bill needed changes to make sure people would not “fall through the cracks”.

Mr Burke said the problem for casuals was a “perverse outcome” for workers such as teachers working casually in the private sector across multiple schools and construction workers moving from project to project.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said amendments were needed to prevent employers breaching the Fair Work Act when an employee was working for the employer and receiving the $1500 subsidy but this was less than the workers usual wage.

“It is also reasonable for short-term amendments to be made to the act to give businesses that are eligible for the JobKeeper scheme the reasonable discretions that they need to retain as many jobs as possible,” Mr Willox said.

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The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said the guiding principle of JobKeeper had to be providing people in small businesses with the means to keep their companies going.

Labor and charity groups have concerns that while not-for-profits are able to access the JobKeeper payments some major charities are not eligible for this assistance as ongoing grant funding leaves them ineligible.

This has left some not-for-profits calling for the calculation of turnover for JobKeeper to exclude tied grants so more organisations can avoid shutting retail stores and other programs.

Labor Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities Andrew Leigh said it had been a “disaster for charities” who had diversified into a range of sectors, such as Anglicare and Red Cross.

“These are the bodies we really need in a time of crisis. Just as the banks have a special role to play so too do the charities.”

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