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The Federal Government Has Announced Temporary Support For Melbourne Workers In Lockdown

The federal government has just announced that they will be providing lockdown support for workers in Melbourne who have lost work as a result of the lockdown.

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The federal government has just announced that they will be providing lockdown support for workers in Melbourne who have lost work as a result of the lockdown.

Workers could be eligible to receive a payment of either $500 or $325 under a temporary COVID disaster payment, which is going to be made on a week-by-week basis, depending on the extensions of the lockdown.

The payments are going to be made available to anybody over the age of 17 and eligible recipients will receive either $325 or the full $500, depending on whether or not they are still able to work over 20 hours per week.

The government has said that these payments will be part of a new system that will make these payments available to other states when other lockdowns happen.

However, there are quite a few caveats involved for these payments.

Firstly, they will only kick in if a lockdown lasts longer than a week.

Applicants for the payment will also have to declare that they would have been working had a lockdown not been imposed. They will also have to have used all of their pandemic sick leave or other leave if other their employer offers it and have less than $10,000 in “liquid assets”.

It’s these details, in addition to the relatively small amount of money on offer, that has led workers unions and social support organisations to criticise this federal government commitment as ‘too little, too late’.

President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Michele O’Neil, said that the payment will leave “working people with nothing for a full week before a restricted number are able to access a small support payment, a third below the minimum wage and half the standard disaster payment relief”.

Why has there been so much controversy around these lockdown support payments?

The announcement from the Morrison government today was preceded by a week of fairly vicious back-and-forth between the Victorian and federal government.

Melbourne’s lockdown was extended for at least another seven days earlier this week, after Victoria recorded another six local COVID cases.

The extension of the lockdown in Melbourne led to a lot of questions around what would happen to the people unable to earn a living whilst locked down, as the federal government had made no commitments to providing lockdown support for workers stuck at home and unable to earn at that point.

The seven-day lockdown extension is expected to cost the state’s economy around $700 million, and to bring financial uncertainty for more than half a million casual workers.

The Victorian government announced over the weekend that they would shell out $250 million in a support package designed to assist businesses that have been hit by the snap lockdown, like restaurants, cafés, event suppliers, accommodation venues and non-essential retailers.

The state government also asked the commonwealth to match their $250 million of support money. However, the request was initially denied, and the Victorian government publicly came to blows with the federal government over the past week.

Victorian treasurer, Tim Pallas, said on Sunday that he had been at the table with federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg for days to no avail and had eventually asked Frydenberg just to make a small contribution “so that we can pretend that you are doing something tangible when, in your intents and your efforts, you are not.”

The federal treasurer said earlier this week that it was expected that states could support themselves over short lockdowns.

Members of the federal government also made various comments that appeared to misunderstand the seriousness of what Victorian workers were facing.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt pointed to four support options that could assist Victorians; two were tax breaks, and the other two were one-off payments only available to people in isolation, people who are caring for somebody with COVID, or people who have contracted it themselves.

While the new payments may provide relief to some Victorians currently stuck in lockdown, broad calls for another wave of JobKeeper to be rolled out have been ignored and the ACTU have pointed out that the support doesn’t guarantee employment for any Victorian by the time the lockdown is lifted.

“The payment that has been announced is no replacement for a wage subsidy available fast to everyone effected, which would keep working people attached to their jobs through a lockdown,” O’Neil said.