Australia

Labor makes last-minute pitch to include casuals in $130 billion JobKeeper scheme

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Source: AAP

As Parliament returns to pass $130 billion in wage subsidies for workers hit by the economic shock-wave of coronavirus - Labor is pushing for changes to ensure 1.1 million casuals don't miss out.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese remains concerned for 1.1 million casuals set to miss out under the federal government's $130 billion wage subsidy plan. 

Wage subsidies designed to save six million jobs will be approved by federal parliament when politicians meet in Canberra on Wednesday.

But the scheme won't cover casuals who have been with their employer for less than a year or workers here on temporary visas.  

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacts during a parliamentary sitting under rules of social distancing at Parliament House in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacts during a parliamentary sitting under rules of social distancing at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

Mr Albanese has vowed he won't stand in the way of the measures passing.

But he's urged the government to consider their proposed amendments. 

"There are over one million Australians who are casual workers, who will not be eligible for the JobKeeper program," he said. 

"This fails to recognise that in the modern workforce, many workers defined as casual, but who have been stood down, have expectations and financial commitments based upon that regular work and income that they do."

But the Federal government is resisting calls to extend the scheme to more than two million workers left out including local council employees.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government had responded with the "biggest economic lifeline" in Australia's history.  

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
AAP

He said the important measures being put in place to defend the livelihoods of Australians were not coming without a cost. 

"When Australian lives and livelihoods are threatened, when they are under attack, our nation's sovereignty is put at risk, and we must respond," he told Parliament. 

"It will be a fight. It will be a fight we will win. But it won't be a fight without cost, or without loss."

Mr Albanese also raised concerns for temporary migrants who could be stuck in Australia amid increasing global border and travel restrictions. 

The Australian government has advised temporary visa holders who can no longer support themselves through income, savings, or changes now allowing them to access superannuation to return home.

"As borders close and international flights are cancelled, that means there are some one million people who remain in Australia without work, without access to healthcare, and without a means of support," Mr Albanese said.

Senator Mathias Cormann earlier said no amendments would be considered.

"We won't be accepting any amendments today," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"The scheme that we've put forward is very fair, it will provide support to six million working Australians."

Senator Cormann said the states were responsible for council workers and reiterated calls for struggling visa workers to pack up and leave.

"For those visitors who are not able to support themselves either through work, through savings or through accessing their superannuation, we strongly encourage them to go home," he said.

However, the situation is not that simple for many temporary residents, with flights cancelled, borders closed and some countries made unsafe.

The JobKeeper scheme will pass on Wednesday during a special parliamentary sitting.

People are seen in long queues outside the Centrelink office in Southport on the Gold Coast, Monday, March 23, 2020.
People are seen in long queues outside the Centrelink office in Southport on the Gold Coast, Monday, 23 March, 2020.
AAP

Unions and the coalition have struck a deal on the measures, with more protections for workers built into the draft laws.

Under the scheme, coronavirus-affected businesses will get $1500 in fortnightly payments to pass on to each employee.

Workers who have their hours cut will be able to request time to work a second job.

The Fair Work Commission will be able to review stand-down periods and employer changes to people's work location or duties.

Workers can agree to change their days, while bosses could also ask for annual leave to be taken, provided employees have two weeks left over.

Reasonable requests to take annual leave will not be able to be refused.

While unions pushed for changes to be made through the Fair Work Commission, the government will instead legislate temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter also isn't budging on calls to include the cohort.

"I think there's going to be an agreement to disagree on casuals," Mr Porter said.

The government argues those workers not covered by JobKeeper will be eligible for the $1100-a-fortnight JobSeeker allowance and other welfare benefits.

Labor has also struck a deal to establish a select Senate committee to scrutinise all aspects of the government's coronavirus response.

While the opposition would prefer parliament to sit during the pandemic, it is satisfied the inquiry will be the next best thing with the government spending $320 billion on relief measures.

In the lower house, there will be 30 government MPs and 21 from Labor in the 151-member chamber.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch