07/04/2020 - 15:16

Concerns raised over JobKeeper eligibility

07/04/2020 - 15:16

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Representatives from the tourism and higher education sectors have today criticised aspects of the federal government’s JobKeeper program, voicing concerns that many businesses may not qualify for the wage subsidies.

Concerns raised over JobKeeper eligibility
Evan Hall says WA's tourism industry needs certainty on whether seasonal operators will be eligible for JobKeeper payments. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Representatives from the tourism and higher education sectors have today criticised aspects of the federal government’s JobKeeper program, voicing concerns that many businesses may not qualify for the wage subsidies.

Those comments come as parliament is set to reconvene tomorrow to vote on the proposal, which will pay businesses $1,500 a fortnight per employee to retain them for a period of up to six months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall said while there was broad support for the program in the state’s tourism industry, he was worried many regional tourism operators would not benefit from the wage subsidy scheme.

Noting that many operated seasonally, Mr Hall said the legislation in its current form would not provide payments to many working in the sector, as they were often employed on a casual basis and for fewer than 12 months at a time.

In addition, it was unclear whether businesses that suffered a projected decline in revenue would be eligible to claim payments under the program, which could be problematic for seasonal operators.

“Seasonal tourism businesses do not work every month of the year, and in many cases seem to be disqualified from claiming JobKeeper payments for their employees,” Mr Hall said.

“Tourism businesses, particularly in the north-west, have been decimated as bookings for their peak season are cancelled.

“At the same time, they are being asked to process refunds with cash they don’t have.

“These seasonal businesses have just come out of off-peak season where there is no income, and have invested everything into their upcoming peak season – it is highly likely many of these businesses will not survive.

“The advice has been that the ATO may be flexible and provide exemptions for some businesses, but we need certainty on whether or not they will be eligible.

“These businesses need to decide today if they are going to employ staff tomorrow assisted by a wage subsidy they may or may not receive in May.

“They cannot afford to wait until May to find out if they are eligible.”

Mr Hall’s comments come on the same day as Universities Australia, the peak representative body for the country’s higher education sector, voiced concerns about whether universities would qualify for JobKeeper payments.

That’s because under the proposed legislation, registered not-for-profits would only need to demonstrate a 15 per cent decline in turnover to access the payments, whereas regular businesses must demonstrate a decline of between 30 and 50 per cent.

Although most universities are formally recognised as not-for-profit organisations as they are registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commissions, the federal government has said universities will have to meet the regular criteria for demonstrating a decline in profit to qualify for JobKeeper assistance.

UA chief executive Catriona Jackson said the sector would need the wage subsidies given the loss of international students in the first semester.

“A conservative estimate of the revenue decline that will hit the sector is between $3 billion to $4.6 billion,” she said.

“Universities estimate that more than 21,000 jobs are at risk in the next six months, and more after that.

“It is crucial universities remain viable today so they are able to maximise their contribution to Australia’s economic recovery tomorrow.”

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