The federal Morrison government has denied JobKeeper payments to countless furloughed disability workers by reclassifying NDIS contributions so that organisations must now count them as income – making them ineligible for the scheme.
This will cause further hardship for employees in disability, many of whom have also been asked to use up annual leave, take unpaid leave or to take on different roles, often with higher risks. These risks have included providing individual support to clients whom they have never met, some of whom are non-verbal and unable to communicate whether they have potentially had contact with confirmed cases of the virus, and some who are violent and may put workers in physical danger.
This latest blow to vulnerable workers comes as the result of a significant change to the JobKeeper criteria for charitable organisations, made by the Morrison government. This change will have a major impact on many disability services.
On 14 May 2020, National Disability Services published a document in which the ATO confirms payments to charities for providing National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) services are not classed as ‘government income’ and therefore cannot be excluded when calculating their turnover for the purposes of the JobKeeper Payment Scheme. Many organisations will now not meet the threshold for lost ‘income’ that would allow their workers to access the scheme.
According to this document, when a NDIS participant selects the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to manage their plan and pay for their support, these payments are made from the participant’s NDIS funds to the provider. These payments are not provided by an Australian government agency.
In other words, these payments cannot be disregarded from the JobKeeper turnover, because supplies made by the provider (an ACNC registered charity) to participants is not directly provided by an Australian government agency.
This is an extremely disappointing, frustrating and unexpected change for our disability services workers, who were relying on the financial support from JobKeeper allowance. We only became aware of these changes on May 25, as they were made without consultation or notification.
It is important to understand that there is limited legislation and no regulations covering the JobKeeper allowance, and so the government can make changes at any time, which they have – in this case to the detriment of some disability sector employees.
HOW JOBKEEPER WORKS
While the Morrison government was originally opposed to a wage subsidy scheme, unions fought hard for a change that would keep people employed – and won. JobKeeper is a wage subsidy worth a projected $130 billion, designed to save jobs for around six million workers during the Covid-19 pandemic by subsidising wages and keeping workers engaged with their employers over six months. The federal government has now acknowledged that its forecasts were wrong, with only 3.5 billion people to receive payments at a lower cost of $70 billion.
Under the JobKeeper scheme, eligible employers will receive $1,500 per fortnight for each eligible employee to subsidise their pay. As an eligible employee, that means you will receive at least $1,500 per fortnight before tax.
If you are still working and earn more than $1,500 per fortnight, your pay and superannuation will not change. If you are working and normally earn less than $1,500 per fortnight – or have had your hours reduced such that you earn less than $1,500 per fortnight – your employer will pay you $1,500 per fortnight before tax. You will not receive superannuation payments on any amount above what you would have earned from your work unless negotiated with your employer.
If you have been stood down and are not working, you will receive $1,500 per fortnight before tax. Superannuation does not have to be paid on this amount, but the employer can agree to make a contribution based on all or part of this payment. To be eligible to receive JobKeeper payments, both the employee and employer must be eligible.
As welcome as this scheme has been, it is not without gaps. The union movement is continuing to lobby government for an expansion of the program to protect all vulnerable workers.
Find out more at treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/jobkeeper