Calls to Extend Pandemic Leave Payments in Australia

By AAP
August 4, 2020 Updated: August 4, 2020

The Morrison government is facing pressure to extend its pandemic leave payments for Victorians to those struggling in other states.

Victorian workers without sick leave will be able to access the $1500 fortnightly federal government payments while they self-isolate.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it’s a disaster payment and could apply to other jurisdictions if they’re in a formally declared condition like Victoria.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says in order to be eligible for the payment people must be over the age of 17 and live and work in Victoria.

During the quarantine period it must have been likely they had to work, and they must have exhausted all their sick leave and other entitlements.

“They must not be on JobKeeper or any other payment from the Australian government,” she told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.

“However people do need to be eligible for Australian government payments to be able to get access to this particular leave payment.”

Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke is arguing for a national scheme to guard against outbreaks in other states.

“Unless we get a universal scheme we will have more community transmission, leading to more outbreaks and economy-smashing lockdowns,” he said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese would not explicitly say whether paid pandemic leave should match a person’s salary but warned of the consequences if it did not.

“I think we should err on the side of generosity because we do not want there to be any incentive for people to go to work (if they are sick),” Albanese told reporters in Canberra.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions wants workers to be compensated at normal rates of pay and the scheme administered through payroll systems.

“It’s actually set at the rate of pretty close to the minimum wage, which is less than half the average wage,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil told the Seven Network.

“We want to make sure it works like sick leave. If you need to stop work and isolate you should get your normal pay and the government should reimburse businesses that can’t afford to pay that.”

O’Neil is concerned workers having to call 1800 numbers to access the cash will be a barrier.

The disaster leave payments will be available from Wednesday, with workers allowed to receive it multiple times if coronavirus testing or isolation is needed.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the grants must be easy to access and in line with health advice.

Unions are also calling for childcare workers to be reinstated into the federal government’s JobKeeper wage scheme subsidy.

Victoria’s strict six-week lockdown has triggered confusion about the future for childcare staff.

Education Minister Dan Tehan has flagged an announcement for Wednesday for support to the sector, pending further consultations.

By Matt Coughlan and Rebecca Gredley in Canberra