Support for workers losing income due to bushfires
This guidance note provides guidance on what to do if a worker has lost income as a result of a bushfire. It includes general advice on circumstances where workplaces may not be able to be accessed, have been damaged or destroyed, or are otherwise unable to operate as a result of bushfires. It also contains information on financial assistance that may be available to workers who have lost income due to a bushfire. Information is also provided on non-income related financial assistance that workers may be able to access, such as replacement of essential damaged items and access to emergency accommodation.
Please note that this is only guidance information, and any members wishing to access entitlements or funding contained in this note should seek further information from their union or the contacts provided to determine their eligibility. Please also note this advice is current as at 9 January 2020. Governments may update these schemes as the bushfire crisis continues.
Employers seeking to stand down workers
If an employer is seeking to stand down an employee as a result of the bushfires, members should urgently contact their union to clarify their rights and agree a course of action.
The Fair Work Act provides (at s.524) that an employer may stand down an employee without pay in certain circumstances.
These include where an employee “cannot be usefully employed” because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible. This could include the current bushfire crisis.
However, an Enterprise Agreement or a contract of employment may contain clauses which override this section by changing the circumstances an employer may stand down an employee, the duration and whether the worker should be paid. These clauses may also provide certain qualifications on stand down such as requirements to consult with affected workers about suitable alternative duties.
Further, if any employer is seeking to stand down a worker, the worker should urgently get in touch with their union. A union may be able to challenge whether the claimed circumstances genuinely apply and/or negotiate a better outcome for the member.
Income protection schemes
Some workers may have access to income protection schemes provided for in enterprise agreements. These schemes may provide income support where workers are unable to work as a result of bushfires.
Some superannuation funds provide for income protection payments for members in certain circumstances. Members should contact their industry super fund to see if they are covered by one of these schemes and whether they are eligible to apply.
Federal Government income support schemes
Disaster Recovery Allowance
Workers who have lost income as a direct result of the bushfires may be eligible to claim a Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA) from the Department of Human Services (DHS).
What does the Disaster Recovery Allowance include?
Workers can receive up to 13 weeks’ pay at Newstart or Youth Allowance Rates. DHS states that it will provide payments from the “date that the income is lost”.
DHS will take into account the workers’ income prior to and following the disaster.
What are the basic eligibility requirements?
- Must work or live in a declared Local Government Area that has been impacted by bushfires.
- Must be an Australian Citizen or “hold an eligible visa”.
- Applicants are required to prove that they will earn less than the “relevant threshold amounts”. The threshold amount is the fortnightly payment that the worker may be eligible for. For example, a single person with no children would need to prove that they will not earn over $1060.67 from alternative sources of income, such as interest earned from assets or shares.
Where should workers enquire about eligibility and apply?
- To claim, or clarify a workers’ eligibility:
- Call Centrelink’s dedicated line on 180 22 66 (8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm Saturday to Sunday)
- Print and complete the claim form available online at: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/help-emergency/bushfires
- Visit a service centre: https://findus.humanservices.gov.au/
- Please note, Mobile Service Centres will be up and running in affected communities where circumstances allow.
- Or call 131 202 to talk to Centrelink in languages other than English.