Printers have welcomed the federal government’s extension of the JobKeeper wage subsidy but have expressed concern for struggling operators that may be using it to mark time.
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to hit businesses, particularly in Victoria, the federal government this week extended the life of the JobKeeper scheme until end of March 2021 but at a reduced rate and with tighter eligibility rules.
Cactus Imaging general manager of operations, Keith Ferrel, said while some print companies are thriving, the majority are either marking time or struggling so any government subsidy will prove to be a welcome help.
But Ferrel also had a word of warning for operators that may be propping up their businesses with the subsidy.
“While the extension of Job Keeper is very welcome, it is vitally important that print companies who keep staff on the payroll when not necessary realise the extra costs they will incur as they will still be liable for holiday pay, long service leave and redundancy pay,” he told Sprinter.
“The extension of Job Keeper will prove a godsend to many print businesses across the nation and may well mean the difference between either closing or downsizing. The weaning off of the subsidy over the next eight months also gives business (if necessary) the opportunity to gauge where there heading and buy a little time as any certainty in the market is a long way away.”
Imagination Graphics director Emmanuel Buhagiar said the ongoing funding is necessary for the industry.
“What the government is doing is nothing less than extraordinary. It has helped business stay afloat, managing their employees and keep the business going. Many businesses are still struggling through the pandemic. We need the support to keep our heads above water,” he said.
“It’s important to look after your loyal employees in these hard times. Having said that, you need to keep a constant eye on how your business is going because if you go broke, nobody wins and nobody has a job.”
Kuhn Corp director and president of the Print & Visual Communication Association (PVCA) Walter Kuhn told Sprinter that regardless of the restrictive terms of the extended subsidy, the industry will benefit from the government support which is in line with the new JobMaker programme.
“I am relieved and happy that government has heard the voice of our industry and extended JobKeeper,” Kuhn said.
“Even with JobKeeper on more restrictive terms, the assistance complements the newly announced JobMaker programme which will give long-term training incentives, and the clear evidence that State and Federal Governments are pivoting to ‘buy Australian’, which will act as a stimulus to the industry on an ongoing basis.”
The Real Media Collective’s general manager of IR, policy and governance Charles Watson said leading into the federal government review of the scheme in June, the Collective had been advocating strongly for the need of a JobKeeper extension.
“We made the negative economic effects of COVID-19 on our industry, and particularly on smaller businesses, very clear to the Treasury review,” Watson told Sprinter.
“We were able to establish that the industry, as a whole, would not get a lot of clean air until the conditions for those industries that form the client base of our industry showed appropriate improvement.
“We have to thank our members and the industry as a whole for their responses to our recent industry survey. That participation was instrumental in establishing with some degree of specificity the evidence of the economic effects of COVID-19 on what is the largest manufacturing industry, and one of the largest employers in Australia.”
Based on the Collective’s June 2020 Industry Insights Report, 75 per cent of survey respondents held the view that a six-month extension of JobKeeper for printers, mail houses and publishers under a means tested program would avoid laying off staff permanently and immediately.
“In a sector that employs over 258,000 Australians, that equates to 193,500 jobs saved. JobKeeper has brought about some of its intended effects such as retaining jobs in the industry to ride out the immediate storm,” Watson said.
“We have to accept what is a moderated and transitional approach to the phasing out of the JobKeeper scheme. Although the subsidy amounts will be reduced in October, and again in January 2021, the scheme will continue to assist the industry in charting a course towards improved conditions.
“We understood the JobKeeper scheme was not ever going to be the silver bullet to the economic issues facing the business community. To that end, the Collective continues to work directly with government at all levels, as well as the Fair Work Commission and other tribunals to realise additional and longer-term measures to assist and stimulate recovery in our industry and for the Australian economy.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has welcomed the continuation of JobKeeper and JobSeeker but is concerned about the changes to the program design.
It said the extension of JobKeeper is essential to supporting working people during this crisis, however there is still a need to close gaps which exist in the program so every worker and employer effected by the pandemic are covered.
The ACTU has questioned the justification for cutting payments to all workers receiving JobKeeper, especially those working fewer than 20 hours, who are often low paid and by the government’s own admission have often lost second and third jobs.
The ACTU has suggested that the approach is misguided and will cause financial hardship to huge numbers of working people.
“The cuts to JobSeeker and the reintroduction of mutual obligations may signal a return to the failed punitive approach to welfare which Australians hoped had been left behind. Asserting that unemployed workers should be trying harder to find a job while there are 13 people for every available job is not based in reality,” it said.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said while the extension to JobKeeper and JobSeeker are an important foundation, it will be a jobs-led reconstruction plan that allows Australia to complete the economic recovery.
“The union movement has been campaigning for continuing the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs; the gaps also need to be closed so everyone who has been badly affected by the pandemic is supported,” she said.
“This announcement has delayed the economic catastrophe that would have resulted from pushing these programs off the cliff during the pandemic, but we need far-reaching government investment to create a path out of recession and to create the jobs we will need to rebuild the economy.
“The increase of the income free threshold to $300 for JobSeeker is welcome but the reintroduction of mutual obligations is a worrying return to the punitive approach to welfare payments which we hoped the Morrison Government had left behind.”
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