Workers who are locked down in Victoria with no idea when they will next earn money say they feel “abandoned” as the pandemic drags on.

Workers who are locked down in Victoria with no idea when they will next earn money say they feel “abandoned” as the pandemic drags on.
Key points:

  • It is estimated half a million Victorians were in casualised work before its latest lockdown
  • They don’t get sick leave or annual leave, in return for a higher pay loading
  • Casual workers stuck in lockdown are calling for more help from the Federal Government

Victoria is enduring its fourth COVID-19 lockdown in 15 months, after its state government made the order last week.
This time last week, Melbourne resident Suzanne Stevens had work stretching out for weeks across her four jobs as a fashion model, visual merchandiser, salon manager and social media content creator.
“I had two modelling castings, a photo shoot booked for a full day’s work and then 30 hours in the hair salon,” she said.
“As soon as lockdown was announced, it all disappeared.
“It’s quite anxiety inducing.”
Suzanne Stevens works as a fashion model signed by a major Australian agency.(Supplied: Suzanne Stevens
Until the pandemic, Ms Stevens said this way of being employed often worked for her, because she could take modelling jobs and have no obligation to fulfil her other roles.
“The hours were consistent but, as this pandemic has shown me, nothing is reliable,” she said.
What sort of entitlements do casual workers get?
Casual workers do not generally qualify for annual leave, sick leave or other entitlements as well as having no long-term rights in terms of job severance or security.
In return, they have a loading added to their pay to compensate.
So, during a lockdown, their employers are not obliged to pay them when they are not working and they have no annual leave payments to draw on as backup.
Victorian COVID-19 snapshot

  • Outbreak cases: 54
  • Active cases: 63
  • Cases in hospital: 1
  • Test results in past day: 42,699
  • Vaccinations at state-run sites in past day: 20,484

Updated 9:51am June 1, 2021
Find the latest information on the Victorian government website.
The sorts of casual jobs impacted by this during the pandemic have been wideranging, from those in the live music industry through to hospitality and retail.
It is difficult to say exactly how many people are employed in casual roles in Victoria because the closest thing that the ABS classifies to their situation is the category “without paid leave entitlements”.
Going off this definition, there are more than 500,000 people casually employed in the state alone, according to figures from December.
Until the federal government ended the JobKeeper wage subsidy in March, casual workers were entitled to this welfare support during COVID.
But they had to prove they had worked casually in a role for 12 months before the pandemic and had worked in that role consistently.
Sole traders such as freelance photographers through to roadies could also access JobKeeper, if they could prove they had a significant drop in income too. 
Victorians are enduring their fourth lockdown, but this is the first without any signifant economic assistance from the federal government.(Laura Tingle)
Ms Stevens said she had been able to access JobKeeper last year for her casual salon job.
Her situation was lucky for a casual.
Griffith University employment expert David Peetz estimates that roughly 1 million Australians employed casually missed out on qualifying for JobKeeper when it was available.
JobKeeper ended in March and the federal government has so far resisted calls to reinstate it for Victoria’s latest lockdown.
“It really makes me feel abandoned,” Ms Stevens said.
“I feel like the half a million casual employees of Victoria have been set on a boat off to sea and forgotten about, when we all pay taxes and some of us at a higher rate than most.
“To have a government turn their back on you and sort of allow you to fend for yourself is incredibly hurtful.”
JobKeeper payments were actually tied to the employer, who had to also prove their business had been hit by downturn over a period. It is unclear how this system could work during snap lockdowns.
The federal government has been reiterating that casual workers can apply for JobSeeker however that unemployment payment has also dropped to almost pre-COVID levels after being boosted considerably last year.
Ms Stevens said she feels “privileged” to have savings in the bank and a partner with a full-time role, so she is not currently contemplating JobSeeker.
Some who would consider applying for it are not eligible because they are not Australian citizens.
Marni is not eligible for any welfare assistance during Victoria’s lockdown as she is not an Australian citizen.(ABC News: Emilia Terzon
Melbourne retail worker Marni has also lost casual work in the last week.
“As an international student who’s currently on a bridging visa, I don’t qualify for any sort of government support whatsoever,” she said.
“I feel very anxious, I feel sad.”
Last year during Melbourne’s extended lockdown, Marni said she worked for an architecture firm that let her work from home and keep earning money, but her new job in a fashion store cannot offer her that.
“Now that my job is out of the house and relies on retail being open, I’m no longer in that position,” she said.
“I definitely am at the mercy of my employer. But equally, I feel that my employer is at the mercy of the support that’s able to be offered to them.
“They’re a small, independent business run by two people, and they employ two other people.
“So, it’s incredibly difficult.”
What money is on offer?
The Victorian government on Sunday announced a $250m support package for businesses, including grants ranging from $2500 to $3500 for small-to-medium sized businesses and hospitality venues.
The grants do not come with a proviso that the money has to be passed down to workers.
And the state government as a result has called for more welfare support from the federal government.
Treasurer Tim Pallas asked the federal government not to “turn your back on Victorian people in their hour of need”.(ABC News: Darcy Hodgson
In a statement, a spokesperson for Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas confirmed that they requested several different options from the federal treasurer in talks last week.
They said those options included an extension of JobKeeper for Victoria’s seven day lockdown or a more targeted scheme for casual workers impacted by the current restrictions.
Failing that, it asked for its $250m package to be matched dollar for dollar.
In a statement, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg pointed to two previous lockdowns in Perth and Greater Brisbane that have taken place since JobKeeper ended.
“In both the Queensland and Western Australian lockdowns further federal support was not required,” he said.
“Over $45 billion has already flowed to Victorian families and businesses during COVID, with more direct federal economic support per capita going to Victoria than to any other state.
“The amount of federal government direct economic support delivered to Victoria is around three times what has been delivered by the state government.”
He also pointed towards one-off payments of $1,500 available to people during COVID. However, the Services Australia website says support is only available for people “ordered to quarantine or self-isolate”.
Federal minister tells out-of-work Victorians to head to Centrelink but they’re unlikely to qualify for a payment
Federal Liberal MP Dan Tehan tells Victorian workers who have lost their income during the lockdown to “go to Centrelink and see whether they are eligible”.
Read more
Griffith University’s David Peetz said Victoria’s latest lockdown showed once again how casualised the country’s workforce has become since the 1980s.
He estimates a quarter of the Australian workforce is in casualised roles.
“We have so many people called casuals by the industrial relations system, because it’s a way by which employers can get out of the costs associated with permanent employment,” Mr Peetz said.
The federal government did further define what is classified as a casual worker only this year, in an effort to avoid leaving businesses liable for potentially billions of dollars in back-pay.
The measure says that employers will be compelled to consider offering casual employees either a permanent part-time or full-time job after 12 months of shifts, however Labor and unions argue it is unenforceable.
One of the often touted benefits of casual employment for the worker is that they get paid a loading that should compensate them for their lack of sick leave and annual holidays.
Mr Peetz said it is difficult to know exactly how many casual workers get this loading because the ABS stopped counting this data almost a decade ago.
“It’s fair to say around between a third and a half of so called casuals don’t receive the casual loading,” he said.
Could anything be done quickly for these workers?
When it comes to Victorian workers’ current predicament, Mr Peetz is unsure if anything can be achieved quickly.
“It’s not easy when you’re halfway through or who knows how far we are through this particular lockdown,” he said.
“And so it’s very hard to suddenly come up with a proposal for particularly something, given that it takes an amount of time for anything to be put in place.
“So you really sort of have plan ahead [when] you have a sudden shock to the labour market like this.”
He believed the process to allow people to get onto JobSeeker could be simplified to make it quicker for people to start receiving payments once they lodge.
Both Suzanne and Marni want the federal or state government to look at one-off payments for them if the Victorian lockdown drags on further than its current seven day proposal.
The Victorian government did provide one-off payments for international students on the breadline during the last extended lockdown.
“I don’t think there’s really any easy answers,” Suzanne said.
“From my experience, I feel like having a safety net, which is what JobKeeper was at the end of the day if your industry was affected, seems to be the easiest solution for the time being.”
In his statement Mr Frydenberg said: “The Morrison government will continue to work with the Victorian government and closely monitor the situation.”
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