For millions of Australian workers, there is seemingly no end in sight to the disruption and uncertainty that Scott Morrison’s mishandling of this punishing pandemic has wrought.
As Sydney endures a third successive week of lockdowns due to the latest Covid-19 outbreak, and various parts of the country enforce a litany of restrictions and border closures, the absence of a clear, concerted national strategy to vaccinate Australians is being exposed as a calamity.
Even former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has slammed the shambolic handling of this crisis saying, “I can’t think of a bigger black-and-white failure of public administration than this.”
For the 30 per cent of Australia’s workforce who rely on insecure work, jobs that don’t offer sick pay, holiday pay or other entitlements, the continuing chaos that accompanies every lockdown or restriction regime required to protect public health means one thing for them – a loss of work and income.
Without the protection offered by the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes that were fought for and won by Australian Unions and workers when the pandemic broke in early 2020, this latest lockdown in Sydney is driving many workers and their families to the brink of a financial crisis.
ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, backs the public health measures that health authorities feel they must take to protect their communities. She told ‘On the Job’ she is in no doubt that where the responsibility lies for the predicament workers find themselves in.
“Unions understand and support public health directives that make sure workers and their communities are safe. What we can’t abide though, is a total absence of an intensive, strategic, national vaccination program,” O’Neil said.
“A lack of urgency and action on vaccinations in this country has left millions of Australians in insecure work living on the edge, not knowing if the next outbreak or COVID hotspot will mean another lockdown and the loss of work and income that goes with it.”
Certain sectors of the economy have been hit harder than most, none more so than the hospitality industry.
By its very nature, hospitality services like cafes, pubs, restaurants and clubs are social spaces, their very purpose being to bring people together.
Because Australia’s vaccination rollout is such a mess, our only protection from an uncontrollable surge of the Covid-19 virus remains staying apart from one another. That is an unmitigated disaster for hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers whose incomes vanishes every time there is an outbreak of COVID-19.
Jess Browning is the digital organiser with Hospo Voice, a union that represents workers in the industry. She told “On the Job” that hospitality workers are struggling.
“Many people [in hospitality] are in insecure work and with the changing restrictions and circumstances at the moment, they’re finding it really hard to plan ahead,” Browning said.
“There are two really big issues. Firstly, there is the financial impact. Casual workers are usually the first to be let go when there’s any changes [like lockdowns or restrictions].
“The other thing is the impact of the endless uncertainty. It’s creating real mental health issues for people, not knowing whether or not you’re going to have work. You can’t assume you’ll have a job in a month’s time let alone six months away, and it makes it impossible to plan your life.
The crisis that these workers are facing today which has been created by the failed vaccine rollout is made more acute by the lack of the wholesale support that was on offer to workers at the start of the pandemic, according to Michele O’Neil.
“JobKeeper and JobSeeker were two initiatives that Australian Unions dragged this government to institute, and they gave Australian workers some security during the first year of the pandemic. We’re 18 months into this pandemic with no real road map out of it, and the only thing that has changed is Scott Morrison removing the financial support that JobKeeper and JobSeeker provided,” the ACTU President said.
“This has become the perfect storm for Scott Morrison’s insecure work economy. Having happily leftover 30 per cent of Australian workers in jobs without entitlements, he’s now strolling through a vaccine rollout that has left the population woefully exposed to the disease. As a result, it’s destroying any sense of financial certainty for millions of hard-working Australians trapped in his insecure work economy.”
“They have abandoned some of the most at-risk workers in aged and disability care, promising and then failing to deliver in-workplace vaccinations.”
For Jess Browning, her concern for workers in the industry is growing on a weekly basis, as it becomes increasingly clear that Australia will not reach a vaccination status within the community that will allow it to open up any time soon.
“It’s really tough. Even with JobKeeper and JobSeeker we were doing it tough.
“This time around, people have less savings to fall back on and the very limited Government support is completely inadequate.
“People have already taken money out of their superannuation which was a terrible way to deal with it in the first place. I think there’s a lot of people calling in favours, having to move in with their family, and who are really afraid about whether or not they’re going to be able to support themselves.”