This pandemic is not over – and nor is the economic hardship that millions of Australian workers are facing as 2021 draws to a close.
Scott Morrison’s decision to tether the removal of disaster payments for affected workers to when a jurisdiction reaches 80% of eligible people being fully vaccinated is certain to leave many who remain out of work without the support they urgently need.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus is deeply concerned about the impact of withdrawing the disaster payments, particularly for those workers in sectors such as accommodation and hospitality, both of which have been smashed by the pandemic.
“Almost one in four of the hospitality and accommodation jobs that existed before the pandemic were lost by mid-September. These industries continue to be the hardest hit by necessary lockdowns. Workers need financial supports from the Morrison Government as many sectors will not be back to full employment well into 2022,” Ms. McManus said.
Alison Pennington is Senior Economist at the Centre for Future Work at the independent think tank The Australia Institute. She told On the Job that withdrawing disaster payments at this critical juncture was appalling timing.
“Arguably, this is the most critical time to have disaster payments in place, while things are opening up and people are going back to shop.”
“The key point is that there are industries that are far from being able to return to anything like pre pandemic conditions. There are 1.7 million people on the payments across New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT, which are the states that are either in restrictions or just emerging from them. Many of those workers have very diminished reemployment prospects and so they will plunge into the below poverty rate of the JobSeeker payment, which is the only option for them,” Ms. Pennington said.
McManus is also wary of the road ahead for workers if communities are once again overwhelmed by further surges in infection rates that might see restrictions reinstated.
“The national roadmap anticipates further restriction being necessary if cases climb. The decision to axe disaster payments in these conditions is reckless and will continue to condemn workers into poverty right as the economy needs them with money in their pockets to fuel the recovery.”
Alison Pennington believes that the Morrison government is unfazed about the prospect of Australian workers once again finding themselves trapped in the matrix of precarious work and the gig economy.
With over 30% of the total Australian workforce navigating insecure work without any entitlements such as sick leave, holiday pay and superannuation prior to the COVID19 pandemic, it has become a design feature of the government’s economic strategy.
“All they’re doing is increasing the pool of precarious work and that is good for wage suppression, which is their main game.”
“Making work more insecure was the aim of the government’s industrial relations Omnibus bill which passed in March, which further liberalised casual work.”
“What they would hope is that these 1.7 million people on the disaster payments step into the labor market in a much weaker and more desperate position and more likely to accept whatever wage low wages employers are offering.”
Sally McManus agrees and is concerned about long term implications for those who find themselves without work and stripped of the disaster payments that have kept the wolf from the door during recent months.
“The Morrison Government is repeating its mistakes of 2020 by cutting support payments before jobs and the economy have recovered, and condemning thousands of workers to poverty.”
What will the political implications be for the Morrison Government for withdrawing their support from vulnerable Australians?
Alison Pennington believes that there will be a price to pay at the polls for the government’s obsession with neo-liberal economic ideology.
“At every point when, when JobKeeper was wound back, when supplement payments were wound back and now the disaster payments, the rhetoric has been the same is the same, which is, we can’t afford it. I think Australians are in a better position now to call bullsh*t on that strategy.”
“If anything, the pandemic is making as clear as day the (economic) shock doctrine of the Morrison Government and business lobbyists. Which is, simply, to exploit the crisis to increase the proportion of national income flowing to businesses and to decrease the proportion that flows to workers.”