The casual workers missing out on Australia’s wage subsidy

The government is willing to be flexible with the end date for JobKeeper wage subsidies.

The government is willing to be flexible with the end date for JobKeeper wage subsidies. Photo: Getty/TND

Prime Minister Scott Morrison won plaudits last month for announcing a massive wage subsidy program to protect Australian jobs.

Mr Morrison described the $1500 fortnightly subsidy as an “economic lifeline” and said up to six million workers would be eligible for the ‘JobKeeper’ payment.

Parliament is expected to pass the emergency legislation in a scaled-back session on Wednesday.

But unions have said too many workers will slip through the net.

“There’s about 1.1 million casuals who will miss out on this payment because they haven’t had 12 months’ continuous service,” Ms McManus told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

“Those people need to be covered too.”

New analysis by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has explained exactly who these workers are.

Parents with dependent children account for more than a quarter of short-term casuals

Curtin University economists Rebecca Cassells and Alan Duncan say 27.8 per cent of short-term workers are (single and coupled) parents with dependent children.

For couples with dependent children (comprising 23.2 per cent of the short-term casual cohort), exclusion from the JobKeeper scheme could lead to an $800 reduction in fortnightly household income, the economists claim.

The Coalition has said these workers can instead claim the lower JobSeeker payment alongside additional welfare assistance such as family tax benefits and rental assistance.

Hospitality, retail and healthcare employ most short-term workers

Of the near-1.1 million short-term casual workers set to be excluded from JobKeeper, a vast proportion work in accommodation, hospitality and retail – sectors that traditionally have high levels of staff turnover.

Female employees are expected to be disproportionately affected by the JobKeeper exclusions, as the above industries employ a higher proportion of women.

Additionally, healthcare and social assistance, construction, manufacturing, and education and training employ roughly 304,800 casual workers.

Research from the Grattan Institute suggests an estimated 94,500 people are casually employed at Australian universities, primarily in teaching-only roles.

Which is why the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA) NSW/ACT’s branch wrote to Education Minister Dan Tehan outlining its concerns for large numbers of casual relief teachers.

“Many of our members risk being stood down or [receiving] no income at all in the coming time because the 30 per cent threshold of loss of revenue will not be able to be demonstrated,” the IEUA wrote.

Occupations anticipated to be hit hardest include labourers (15.8 per cent of the workforce are short-term casuals), community and personal services (20.1 per cent) and sales workers (16.8 per cent).

Short- and long-term casual workers earn roughly the same amount

One argument for preventing short-term casual workers from accessing the JobKeeper wage subsidy is that they are more likely to earn less than long-term casuals.

The idea is that short-term casuals should therefore make do with the expanded JobSeeker payment of $1100 a fortnight, which is $400 less than JobKeeper.

But this argument is based on false assumptions.

Associate Professor Cassells and Professor Duncan found that short-term and long-term casual workers earn comparatively the same amount, despite differing lengths of attachment to their current employer.

“Short-term casuals earn $670 per week on average compared to $700 for long-term casuals,” they wrote.

“One-third of short-term casual workers earn more than $750 a week and 36 per cent of long-term casuals are earning at least this amount.”

Notwithstanding these findings, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter has baulked at the idea of implementing a ‘reasonable test’ to extend payments to short-term casuals, or those with upcoming contracts.

“We’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible,” Mr Porter said.

“But even with expenditure of this extraordinary size there have to be some definitions and some lines drawn.

“We think this is a fair and reasonable line.”

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