When Laura left her job in the private sector to work for the local council, she thought she would have better job security.
Now the 31-year-old swimming teacher has been laid off by Willoughby Council in Sydney’s north shore and has been told she is ineligible for the government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy.
“I took the government job because I thought it was a bigger opportunity, but now it has hurt me. I thought it was going to be for the best and now I’m not getting anything,” she told SBS News.
Last week, the federal government announced a $130 billion plan to subsidise the wages of up to six million Australians left unemployed due to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The $1,500-per-fortnight flat payment will be given to employers who have lost 30 per cent or more of their revenue to pass onto their employees and keep them on the books.
But despite many local councils being forced to shut public swimming pools and libraries due to COVID-19 restrictions, the shutdowns haven’t led to a 30 per cent decrease in each council’s overall revenue, meaning they and their staff are ineligible for the subsidy.
The bulk of local government revenue comes from residential and commercial rates as well as grants from other levels of government.
Lisa Darmanin is the Victorian and Tasmanian branch secretary of the Australian Services Union, which represents local government workers. She said several councils in Victoria have moved to sack large numbers of staff.
Just last week the council in the Victorian city of Geelong moved to stand down 560 workers from a range of services, not just across swimming pools and libraries.
“We are trying to work with each of the employers to redeploy the staff where there have been shutdowns. We don’t accept the view that there isn’t any work to be done,” Ms Darmanin said.
She said that as the third tier of government, local councils had an important role to play during the coronavirus crisis in delivering frontline services such as meal programs for elderly or vulnerable Australians.
“Local government needs to play a role in stimulating economic activity, they need to work with the state and federal governments on opportunities to create jobs and drive the economic recovery rather than standing people down,” she said.
Ms Darmanin said most councils had redeployed staff from swimming pools and libraries into other sectors of the council’s services or had moved online, with some library workers offering virtual reading groups for children, for example.
Max* was among those who lost his job. He was working as a casual early childhood educator at a kindergarten run by the City of Greater Geelong Council when he was told there would be no more shifts.
“The government needs to waive that 30 per cent threshold for local government. I don’t know how they expect us to survive this,” he said.
He said he would happily be redeployed to another area of the council if given the chance, but no job has been offered.
“I’ve got rent due in two weeks from now and I have no idea how I’m going to pay it,” he said.
Ms Darmanin added that if there were cases where there was no work for employees to do, which she didn’t accept there was, then they should have access to the JobKeeper payment as well.
“Local government is an important part of community response. They are vital to continue to be there for the community when the community needs them.”
“Where they are suffering financial hardship it’s up to the state and federal government to step in and provide support,” she said, noting that while local government staff had been laid off, state and federal government employees hadn’t.
SBS News has sent a series of questions to the office of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg about the ineligibility of local government workers for the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
A spokesperson for his office replied that the JobKeeper payment was for businesses only and added that any unemployed local government workers would be eligible for the government’s doubled JobSeeker payment.
*Name has been changed
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