The current pandemic has highlighted the insecure employment practices within the disability sector and exposed the vulnerability of workers and clients alike.
When the pandemic first hit, many AEU members were stood down without pay or required to take annual leave and found themselves unable to access JobSeeker payments. The federal JobKeeper payments provided some relief, allowing employers to keep employees engaged at work if they met the extremely limited eligibility criteria.
The AEU, along with other unions, lobbied hard to have the criteria expanded to include a lower 30% revenue loss for charities and not-for-profit organisations, enabling many more disability services to qualify for the payment. Unfortunately, this win was short-lived. Within days of the first $1,500 payments being made, the Morrison government changed the classification of NDIS payments from government funding not included as revenue to participant fees, meaning it had to be included in the overall revenue. As a result, many services found themselves unceremoniously booted from the program.
The current JobKeeper program was due to end on 27 September 2020, but has now been extended until 28 March 2021. This extension comes with some unfortunate changes to the program, including eligibility and changes to the payments as well as the introduction of a two-tiered payment structure.
From 28 September, the JobKeeper payment will reduce to $1,200 per fortnight for all eligible employees who, in the four weekly pay periods before the reference period, were working 20 hours or more a week on average, with a further reduction to $1,000 per fortnight from 4 January 2021. The fortnightly payment for eligible employees who worked less than 20 hours in the four weeks prior to the reference period will reduce to $750 and then be further reduced to $650 on 4 January.