‘What am I going to do?’: Thousands jobless amid coronavirus lockdown

Jael Lorenzon lost her job after the coronavirus starting spreading in Australia.

Jael Lorenzon lost her job after the coronavirus starting spreading in Australia. Photo: Jael Lorenzon

When Jael Lorenzon saw a text message appear from her boss, her stomach sank.

“We’re starting to cut shifts,” it read.

The 22-year-old hospitality worker suddenly found herself among hundreds of thousands of Australians left unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I got fired and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?'” Ms Lorenzon, who lives in a Melbourne share house, told The New Daily. 

“I’m new to being a full adult and paying rent by myself.”

As Australia enters lockdown and ‘non-essential’ businesses like restaurants and bars close, employers around the nation have been forced to stand down more than 80,000 workers to try to stay afloat.

At least one million people could lose their jobs, the federal government has estimated.

The hardest-hit areas will be arts and recreation (40 per cent of jobs), hospitality (29 per cent) and construction (eight per cent).

This week, long queues have formed outside Centrelink offices across the country, raising additional concerns over the risk of welfare seekers not complying with social distancing rules.

MyGov, the website where Australians access government services, was so overwhelmed it crashed due to surging demand.

To ensure it doesn’t crash again, MyGov’s capacity has been increased from 55,000 users to 150,000, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston told reporters on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, 123,000 people were logged on to the website.

If you have lost your job recently, you are not alone.

The devastating effect COVID-19 is having on the Australian economy means many will struggle financially.

But there are some things you can do to try to soften the blow.

  • To find out how to apply for the government’s coronavirus safety net, click here

Inform your landlord

If you’re worried about not being able to afford rent, let your landlord know, Ms Lorenzon said.

You might be able to negotiate a period of reduced rent.

“We pay rent every month and I’m trying to be as prepared as much as possible and keep my landlord informed before that month ends,” Ms Lorenzon said.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said landlords needed to show common sense and compassion during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re going to lose their tenants if they insist on people paying money that they simply don’t have,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Canberra.

“And in the long run, a good tenant, whether it be business or in housing, can provide stability for the landlord as well.”

Do your research

Before you apply for a welfare payment via Centrelink, make sure you know what you are entitled to receive.

“It’s good to be as informed as possible so when you go to Centrelink, you know what they have to give you,” Ms Lorenzon said.

“If you’re an Australian citizen and you’re in the same situation as I am, the government is there and it’s supposed to be helping you in these situations.”

Don’t attend Centrelink in person

To avoid standing in a long queue all day with potentially infected people, do not attend Centrelink.

Start your application over the phone or online instead.

“No one (should be lining up) unless you don’t have a phone or you don’t have internet access – you can ring up or you can go online,” Ms Ruston told the ABC.

If you have never received Centrelink payments before, you will be required to confirm your identity over the phone to get a Customer Reference Number.

But be prepared to wait – accessing Centrelink can take a painfully long time.

And given the recent surge in demand, it’s likely phone lines will be jammed even more.

Keep your chin up … it will get better

Ms Lorenzon said she knows it’s hard to stay positive about the future given the circumstances, but it’s important to have hope.

“I’d advise people to get help and don’t be discouraged because at the end of the day, you’re going to have to be paying rent,” she said.

“It might be a long road for us to get help, but at least we have it.”

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