Below is a guide to some of the most frequently asked questions about the various Government's COVID-19 stimulus responses and how it will affect our members. You can also access this resource as a PDF.
It’s important to point out that the Government is making daily announcements, often with limited details, and continually update their announcements—making it very difficult to keep information up to date. As much care as possible has been taken in checking the accuracy of this Q&A and it will be updated as further Government announcements/details come to light. Please check back regularly.
In regard to the Wage Subsidy announcement on 30 March 2020 (referred to as “JobKeeper Payments"): there is limited detail on this program and the Government has not even drafted the legislation yet. The ETU will be fighting hard to make sure this program will support all workers, particularly apprentice, casual and labour hire workers.
If you have specific questions about your situation or your workplace rights, please contact your local ETU branch for advice. The ACTU also has resources and fact sheets available, including on JobKeeper payments, temporary early access to superannuation, and workers' compensation for those exposed to risks or confirmed cases in the workplace.
Q. Who is eligible for the “JobKeeper” wage subsidy and how much is it?
A. The $1,500 / fortnight wage subsidy is only available to employers, although they are then required to pass it on to employees. Employers are required to make an application for this subsidy, and payments don’t commence until the first week in May.
Employers can register today for the scheme by going to the ATO home page. You should ask your employer to do it straight away if there has been (or is likely to be) a downturn in work.
The employer needs to prove to the ATO that they have had a 30% downturn (or 50% for companies with >$1billion turnover) and that 100% of the money is going to a worker. It’s not clear what checks and balances will be put in place to make sure this happens.
Importantly the employer can pay their workers the $1,500 from 30 March 2020 and will be fully reimbursed (back paid) by the ATO if they can demonstrate they are eligible, and that the money has been paid to the worker. The $1,500 is a before tax payment and will require tax to be withheld at the applicable income tax rates.
Eligible employers include businesses structured through companies, partnerships, trusts and sole traders as well as not for profit entities and charities so long as they meet the business downturn threshold and employ eligible employees (details below on that).
Q. Which employees can an employer claim the “JobKeeper” wage subsidy for?
A. Eligible businesses that receive the payment are required to pass 100% of it to its employees including sole traders, full time and part time staff. Where a casual employee has been with their employer for at least the previous 12 months they will also be eligible for the payment.
There are many conditions which are still not clear.
According to the Treasury Department, the employer must be eligible first and then the worker eligibility includes:
· The worker needs to have been employed on 1 March 2020.
· are full-time, part-time, or long-term casuals (a casual employed on a regular basis for longer than 12 months as at 1 March 2020);
· are at least 16 years of age;
· are an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, a Protected Special Category Visa Holder, a non-protected Special Category Visa Holder who has been residing continually in Australia for 10 years or more, or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa Holder; and
· are not in receipt of a JobKeeper Payment from another employer.
For employees that were already receiving at least $1,500 in wages a fortnight from their employer, then as long as they are still working normally, their income won’t change. Should their hours reduce (or they are stood down) their pay will reduce until it hits the minimum $1,500/fortnight.
For employees that have been receiving less than this amount, the employer will need to top up the employee to the $1,500 minimum a fortnight.
An employee will only be eligible to receive this payment from one employer. The $1,500 is a before tax payment and normal income tax rates apply.
Labour Hire employers will also be eligible, but this is likely to be highly problematic, particularly when joined with the casual restrictions.
This is simply not good enough and the ETU will be arguing to improve these provisions, so casuals and labour hire workers aren’t left behind.
Q. If my employer gets the “JobKeeper” wage subsidy will I still get paid Superannuation?
A. Normal superannuation rules will apply.
The Government has said the wage subsidy will be paid by the employer through the normal wages system. If paid through the normal wages system, then you should continue to receive Superannuation as per your enterprise agreement or award. This is an area we will be monitoring and will update once the legislation is released.
Q. How will the “JobKeeper” wage subsidy work with the already announced changes to Centrelink payments or apprentice wage subsidy?
A. The Government has indicated you will only be eligible for one type of payment, but details aren’t clear.
There is very little detail out so far as the Government is still drafting the legislation. They have indicated that if you get the wage subsidy via your employer you won’t be eligible for Centrelink Jobseeker benefits. It is unclear at this stage how it will work with the previously announced apprentice wage subsidy.
Q. How do I get the “JobKeeper” wage subsidy if I have already been stood down?
A. You need to contact the employer.
If you are stood down or have been retrenched, you and your recent employer are still likely to be eligible (as long as you both meet the eligibility requirements outlined above). If your employer puts you back on the books, then the wage subsidy can still apply.
There doesn’t appear to be a requirement for you or your employer to actually be performing work. The information from the Government specifically references examples of how the scheme will work with a case study of a business which has completely shut down, and the employees still receive the payment via their employer.
Q. Will I get the $750 one off payment and if so, when?
A. It depends, but if you’re eligible the payment isn’t due until the end of April 2020.
Eligibility is determined if during the period starting 12 March 2020 and ending 13 April 2020 (inclusive) for a day in that period you received one of the following benefits:
· age pension
· family tax benefit
· disability support pension
· farm household allowance
· wife pension
· carer payment
· bereavement allowance
· widow B pension
· widow allowance
· parenting payment
· youth allowance
· austudy payment
· newstart allowance
· jobseeker payment
· sickness allowance
· special benefit
· partner allowance
· carer allowance; or
· double orphan pension.
Q. Will I get the second $750 payment and if so, when?
A. Once again it depends, but if you are eligible the payment isn’t due until late July 2020.
Eligibility is the same as above with two differences, in addition to the above list if you hold a concession card you will receive it but if by July you are on a Centrelink payment and receiving the additional Coronavirus supplement payment (more on this below) you will not receive the second $750 payment.
Q. What’s the deal with Centrelink payments if I lose my job?
A. The Government has relaxed certain wait times and asset tests and will also provide an additional fortnightly Coronavirus supplement payment of $550. On 30 March 2020 the Govt also announced it will increase the partner income threshold.
The additional $550/fortnight supplement applies for an initial six-month period. This period can be extended by the Minister.
There will be an exemption for new and existing JobSeeker payment, Youth Allowance (other) and parenting payment recipients from the assets test, liquid assets waiting period and ordinary waiting periods. Your partner's income still affects your eligibility, but the Government has lifted the threshold: providing your partner earns less than $3,068 per fortnight, around $79,762 per annum, you will still be eligible.
The total payment will be approximately $1,100 a fortnight, however the additional component of the Coronavirus supplement ($550) doesn’t commence until 27 April 2020.
Q. Can I access my Super if I’m not retirement age but struggling financially?
A. Your fund will already have rules for accessing your money in extreme hardship circumstances plus there is capacity to limited additional access in certain circumstances.
Workers will be able to apply to access $10,000 before 1 July and $10,000 after 1 July from their superannuation fund in two separate payments from mid-April and you need to make an application for this payment through the ATO on www.my.gov.au. Make sure you get advice before you do this as this may affect the insurance covers your super fund provides and it will definitely impact your future retirement benefits. The ETU does not recommend members raiding their retirement savings.
Q. I had my kids in childcare, but the Government has said I have to keep them home, how will this affect my Child Care Subsidy?
A. The ‘allowable absences’ has been extended to cover any period that a child cannot attend due to the Coronavirus Crisis. If you follow the advice on Government to keep your kids home, you won’t be penalised and this won’t count towards your 42 days.
Q. If my employer is getting a bunch of payments, how much do they have to pass on to me?
A. None of the business supplements are required to be paid to workers, however, the newly announced wage subsidy must be paid to the worker.
70% of all the stimulus package announced up until 30 March goes to businesses with no requirement for employers to provide any of that money to workers or to not sack workers. The airline industry received a lifeline of $750 million and the next day Qantas stood down 20,000 workers – Qantas still gets the money. Some payments for businesses require the employer to have paid workers wages (in the past month) to get the supplement but once they receive the money, they are not required to pass any of it on or to maintain any employment. They can simply take the money and run.
The wage subsidy announced on 30 March is the first stimulus measure announced that requires the employer to pass 100% of the payment to the worker and to keep the worker employed.
Q. What if I am an apprentice, can my employer just sack me because of the Coronavirus?
A. No and you should not sign any paperwork if this happens until you get advice from your Union.
Your apprenticeship includes a training contract which requires “mutual agreement” to terminate that contract. You need to think very carefully about why you would “agree” to terminate your own job. Contact your Union office for support.
Q. I’m an apprentice, when do we get the $7,000 wage subsidy?
A. You don’t receive the $7,000 wage subsidy, your employer does, and they are not required to pass it on to you. The only benefit is that if your employer sacks you they stop receiving the subsidy, but they are not required to pay back any money they claimed.
The wage subsidy goes to small businesses (less than 100 workers less than $50million turnover) in the form of a wage subsidy reimbursement of 50 per cent of your wage, capped at $7,000 per quarter ($538.46/week), for up to nine months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. The employer receives the money, even if the employer engages you through a Group Training Organisation.
The wage subsidy is still paid to the employer even if you are being paid to attend TAFE or on any form of paid leave including paid stand-down.
Also, if you are let go and find work elsewhere the new business (of any size) or Group Training Organisations that re-engages you becomes eligible for the payment.
So far it is unclear how the $1,500 wage subsidy announced on 30 March will work with the $7,000 wage subsidy.
Q. I’m an apprentice, how does the Coronavirus situation affect youth allowance?
A. The $550 /fortnight Coronavirus supplement will be applied automatically to existing recipients of youth allowance, but it is not clear if this extends automatically to apprentices. The wait times and asset limits have been waived for new claims from 25 March 2020 to 24 September 2020. There are income limits.
If you are already receiving Youth Allowance, then it appears you will automatically have the full Coronavirus supplement applied to your payment.
If you aren’t receiving the Youth Allowance you can apply for it through Centrelink and the asset test and wait times will be waived, however the income tests remain.
If you are independent and single, then your income from $25,831 will reduce your rate by 60c for every $1 until $49,664 after which you will no longer be eligible.
If you have a partner their income still affects your eligibility, but the Government has lifted the threshold providing your partner earns less than $3,068 per fortnight, around $79,762 per annum you will still be eligible.
If you are dependent, then a parent’s income test applies. The parent’s income test has a range of different components to it and you should check the details online with Centrelink, generally the payment reduces by 20 cents for every dollar your parents earn over $54,677.
Notwithstanding all of the above, there remains some questions about eligibility for apprentices which the ETU is currently trying to get answers on.
Q. It doesn’t look like I will get much from the stimulus package, where else can I go if I’m experiencing severe financial hardship?
A. Each state and territory branch of the Union has mechanisms to support members experiencing severe financial hardship. Contact your local branch for help, advice or referral to additional support services.