THE hardest part of the coronavirus pandemic for the Bendigo Original Pie Shop's Grant Findlay, so far, has come this past week.
He and wife Julie Findlay have made the difficult decision to close their Hargreaves Mall store until crowds can come safely back.
They've shed tears at how difficult it has been to let valued staff know their work has dried up, for the time being.
"I just felt like I'd let them down," Mr Findlay said.
"It's hard going through that process."
And the Findlays haven't been alone, with numerous other businesses either making the decision to prioritise staff and customer safety by shutting or being forced to do so by regulations.
It is not yet clear exactly how many Bendigo residents are out of work, as a result. However, Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters estimated at least a thousand.
Like many business owners, Mr Findlay said he would be seeking advice about whether his business - and, more importantly, his staff - were eligible for the Job Keeper supports the federal government announced this afternoon.
Employers encouraged to give 'Job Keeper' a go
THE federal government's new, $130-billion economic support package is a step in the right direction, Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters says.
She just wishes it had been announced sooner.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and treasurer Josh Frydenberg today announced a six-month 'Job Keeper' scheme to support employers and their staff through the coronavirus pandemic.
Eligible employers would receive $1500 a fortnight for each full-time and part-time worker on their books, backdated to March 1.
Casual employees would also be eligible, provided they had been with the employer for at least 12 months and were only receiving Job Keeper payments from one employer.
Employers would be responsible for making sure staff were paid at least as much as they were receiving from the government for keeping them on.
The government also made more people eligible for Job Seeker payments, relaxing the partner income test for six months so applicants would still be in the running for supports if their partner earned less than $80,000 a year.
Ms Chesters said the new 'Job Keeper' scheme ought to mean a whole lot of Bendigo workers would get paid at least the minimum wage for six months.
"It keeps people on the books with employers," she said.
People involved in 'Job Keeper' would not have to go through Centrelink, and there was incentive for businesses to keep staff on, ready for when they could re-open.
"The challenge is, it's come too late for some businesses," Ms Chesters said.
"The business needs to pay the employee and then the government pays the business. That's where the government has made it incredibly complicated and messy."
The program starts today, and the government said eligible businesses could start paying staff $1500 a fortnight immediately.
But they would not be reimbursed until at least the first week of May, when the Australian Taxation Office was due to dish out the first payments.
"It relies on the business to be in a position where they can pay people," Ms Chesters said.
Businesses would have to have taken at least a 30 - 50 per cent hit to revenue since March 1 to be eligible for Job Keeper supports.
Employers that had stood workers down since March 1 were eligible for Job Keeper payments to "help them maintain a connection with their employees".
But workers wouldn't be eligible to claim both Job Seeker and Job Keeper payments.
Workers would have to contact their employers to find out if there was a possibility they might receive Job Keeper payments and withdraw from Job Seeker if that eventuated.
Had the Job Keeper model been in place before businesses started closing, Ms Chesters believed it could have saved more jobs, prevented people from lining up at Centrelink and spared them some anxiety.
"People will still be confused in a month's time because they don't quite know where they fit and if they've done the right thing," Ms Chesters said.
The payments were also about 10 per cent lower than the opposition had been advocating for, which was the equivalent of 80 per cent of the national median wage.
The sum to be paid out was closer to the minimum wage - still about $400 more per fortnight than Ms Chesters said people would receive through Job Seeker.
"This is at least something," Ms Chesters said.
She encouraged Bendigo businesses to give it a go and urged the federal government to recall parliament as soon as possible to move the timeframe for JobSeeker payments along.
The federal government today committed to recall parliament, but it was not clear when parliament would sit.
But the $130b economic support package wasn't welcomed by all, with the Bendigo Trades Hall Council demanding the federal government support every Australian, and not just businesses.
Bendigo Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Martin said the government planned to prop up the economy with a stimulus that would only keep businesses going for a short period of time.
"If the government is committed to giving the economy a kickstart, they then need to put money into the hands of the people," Mr Martin said.
"This will provide them with the income they need to enable them to purchase the necessary goods and services which will assist businesses during the COVID-19 global pandemic."
He said the government was "just kidding themselves and wasting taxpayers' money" if it believed businesses would use the stimulus to keep paying employees.
"What we need from the government is a guaranteed wage subsidy," Mr Martin said.
"We call on the Prime Minister for an 80 per cent wage subsidy, for as long as it takes".
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