Millions of Australians who have been working from home or were stood down temporarily may return to their workplaces soon as the federal government prioritises reviving the economy.
The federal government is expected to announce a time frame for easing lockdown restrictions as early as May 8, as a result of a sustained flattening of the COVID-19 curve. However proper measures need to be in place to ensure workplaces are safe.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra on May 5, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg signaled that restrictions would soon be relaxed as he outlined a path to recovery and post-pandemic reform.
Cafes and restaurants will be among the first businesses to reopen.
“Opening our cafes and restaurants will mean that farmers will have a home for their produce,” he said.
“We need to find a home for that produce and getting those cafes and restaurants and other activities open as quickly as possible will be a way of getting more people back to work and reducing that unemployment,” he said.
Frydenberg also identified childcare, education, and logistics as industries crucial to economic recovery as “they are not only significant contributors to employment and output in their own right but are also important enablers for the broader economy.”
The treasurer emphasised the government’s commitment to leading the nation out of the economic downturn, revealing that lockdown is costing the economy $4 billion a week from “a combination of reduced workforce participation, productivity, and consumption.”
“We must get people back into jobs and back into work,” he said. “History shows the longer people are unemployed, the harder it is to get a job.”
The time frame of lifting national baseline restrictions will be discussed at the next National Cabinet meeting on May 8.
The treasurer urged more Australians to download the “COVIDSafe” app as it is one of the key data metrics in deciding how soon the restrictions will be relaxed, and thus businesses will get back to normal.
As of May 5, nearly 5 million Australians have downloaded “COVIDSafe,” a tool in the government’s strategy to contain the spread of the CCP virus.
“It is about having confidence that as we are able to get more economic activities to take place, we can effectively manage any health risks that arise,” he said.
“It is also why every Australian that wants to get back to work and every business owner that wants to open their doors again should download the COVIDSafe app,” said Frydenberg.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated the government’s goal to get people back to work as early as possible, highlighting the need for workplaces to become “COVID safe.”
“We now need to get 1 million Australians back to work,” he told reporters on May 5. “To get Australians back to work, what is essential is they could go back into a COVID-19 safe workplace.”
The federal government has been working across a range of sectors to prepare plans for a safe return to work.
On April 24, Morrison released the national workplace principles developed jointly by the COVID-19 Commission, Attorney-General Christian Porter, and union representatives.
Morrison said the ten principles are designed to prepare workplaces to resume normal operations.
“This is all about getting Australians back to work and ensuring that when they go back to work, that they and their families can feel safe in going back to work, and to ensure that there are important principles in place,” he said at the press conference.
Head of the COVID-19 commission Nev Power also spoke at the National Press Club and laid out key issues for ensuring businesses are safe to reopen.
They included reconfiguring and restructuring worksites for safety purposes; implementing procedures to respond in case of an incident in the workplace; ways of communication at the workplace; and how to trace cases of COVID-19.