Island jobs at risk as Whitsundays calls for exemption
AN EXPANSION of the JobKeeper program is being called for in the Whitsundays after the border reclosure delivered another blow to the industry.
Tourism Whitsundays has asked the Federal Government for an exemption to eligible tourism and hospitality businesses that would allow them to access JobKeeper for new staff employed after March 1.
The JobKeeper payment provides $1500 a fortnight to employees of eligible businesses, which allows them to keep working.
The payment is only available for people employed before March 1, 2020.
A statement released yesterday by Tourism Whitsundays raised concerns over the eligibility criteria, stating that "the tourism and hospitality industry, particularly in the Whitsundays, ordinarily has a high turnover rate of staff, many of which are transient".
"This has resulted in a significant number of tourism and hospitality employees leaving their jobs during the pandemic to return home to family or to take up roles in industries less affected by COVID-19," the statement read.
"For businesses looking to rebuild and recommence operations, many are forced to recruit new staff to replace those that have left.
"Newly-recruited staff by default are not eligible to receive JobKeeper payments and, as such, the JobKeeper support shrinks markedly for the industry and every month border closures apply."
Elysian Retreat manager Charlton Craggs said expanding the JobKeeper criteria would mean he could keep staff employed.
Most of his employees were hired for the reopening of the retreat on July 1 and are therefore not eligible for JobKeeper.
With the Queensland border shut to travellers from Victoria, NSW and the ACT, Mr Craggs said he had lost a large percentage of bookings.
"At this point in time I'm not sure what's going to happen because we hire staff according to the bookings we have and now all of a sudden those bookings are being cancelled," he said.
Mr Craggs said expanding the JobKeeper payment for newly-hired staff would enable the resort to remain open despite low booking numbers.
"First of all, it would put (staff) at ease," he said.
"They also have responsibilities and livelihoods so for them (it would give them) security in terms of still having a job and being able to pay expenses.
"In that sense we can keep the business going and we can keep the doors open because we've got staff and we've got support so we can just keep on doing what we're doing and be ready for when we have guests coming.
"Whereas now, all of a sudden if you lose a whole chunk of your bookings because the borders have been shut in the last 24, 48 hours, where do you draw the line in terms of who do you keep and who do you let go just so it's cost effective at the end of the day.
"That's basically the issue that I assume most businesses sit with."
Data from Tourism Whitsundays revealed that over the past four months, at least 25 per cent of the tourism and hospitality staff in the Whitsundays have become ineligible to receive JobKeeper.
They predicted this number would rise as some businesses in the region have lost 50 per cent of staff previously maintained through the JobKeeper payment.
"The payments to support tourism and hospitality businesses in the Whitsunday region have halved over the past eight months, while operating costs have remained consistent with what they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic," the Tourism Whitsundays statement read.
Mr Craggs hoped the government would consider calls for change and work with tourism operators and businesses to formulate a solution.
"The most helpful thing is if the government could sit around with tourism bodies and just discuss their decisions and discuss the impacts of their decisions," he said.
"Not just on the tourism industry but on tourism as a whole, on people's livelihoods, on businesses, on employees, people trying to look after their families.
"Just so the messages can be conveyed from the top towards the bottom and we can sort of work on a plan together so there's more transparency and everyone knows where we're heading.
"If something like the JobKeeper can be extended or even new employees can be allowed on JobKeeper that would be a great help because then businesses can actually stay open and try and use their staff in an effective manner and keep the industry ticking over until this thing is resolved."