The six-week shutdown of non-essential businesses across Melbourne has left thousands of workers wondering where they stand and how they will survive.
We’ve taken a look at how the changes are affecting four types of worker — casual, full time, small business and temporary visa holder — and what help, if any, is available to get them through.
Casual worker: ‘You don’t know when the next shift is coming’
Madeleine Thornton-Smith worked three casual jobs before the pandemic hit: as a tutor at a council-run arts centre, as a disability care worker and as an artist in residency, where she also did private tutoring.
She was stood down without pay from her council job in March, but managed to pick up some shifts in her disability and private tutoring work while also completing an unpaid artistic residency.
“Since the pandemic there’s definitely been less work in all my jobs,” she said.
“Work comes in dribs and drabs. Sometimes I get given work in advance, sometimes I get called on the day or the day before.
“Basically [I’m in] a constant state of anxiety, constantly being the on-call [worker] for when permanent staff call in sick.”
Ms Thornton-Smith ended up applying for JobSeeker, after the Australian Tax Office rejected her sole trader application for JobKeeper because her disability employer had also applied on her behalf without her knowledge.
“It’s still all up in the air,” she said.
“It seems even the tax office is struggling to understand the best way to process people who have multiple jobs and ways to support them.”
The six-week shutdown has brought with it a new challenge and more anxiety.
After the stage 4 announcement, the 31-year-old was asked by her disability employer to commit to working for them only, which would mean abandoning her tutoring work, which is higher paid.
“If I elect to work with them, then I can’t work for anybody else,” she said.
“So if you’re highly underemployed in all your jobs like I am, it’s a really hard decision.
“Either way I’m going to lose work.”
Small business owner: ‘We need rental assistance’
Robert Vago has been in the shoe business for 30 years and has operated retail stores in Moonee Ponds and Coburg for over a decade.
He said the six-week shutdown would be extremely challenging, but he hoped — for his own sake and for his four employees — the business would survive.
“It will mean no income. Fortunately we’ve still got JobKeeper, so our girls still get paid,” Mr Vago said.
“I don’t want any of our girls to go. One of them has been with me for 14 odd years. We’ve just got to keep battling.”
The biggest concern for Mr Vago is rent. Despite trying to negotiate rent reductions, neither of his landlords have agreed.
“We need rental assistance. I’m in the process of talking to the landlords at the moment,” Mr Vago said
Mr Vago has applied for the Victorian Government’s one-off business support grant, which provides $10,000 for employing businesses across metropolitan Melbourne.
He has also moved the business online.
“We’re trying to push that a bit further,” Mr Vago said.
“Everything helps but it’s just not creating the sales that you would get through the shops.”
Temporary visa holder: ‘I don’t have work guaranteed’
Raymundo Arriola came to Australia three years ago to study a master’s degree in business administration and had hoped to get a job in customer service once he graduated in 2019.
Then COVID-19 hit and even the casual construction work he had survived on while studying dried up.
“I was expecting to find a job but I wasn’t able to work for three or four months,” he said.
“I was living on my savings, but then I had to ask for my super. Luckily they released it and I was able to survive for a while longer.”
While the 35-year old has been able to pick up some casual labouring work recently via an agency, with construction work being scaled back, he is not sure if he will get any work at all over the next six weeks.
“I don’t have work guaranteed. It’s a big mental stress and anxiety,” he said.
“The agencies don’t know what work there is going to be either.
“Not being able to know more than a few days ahead what’s going to happen with your income, it’s frustrating and distressing. You can’t plan anything.”
As a temporary visa holder, Mr Arriola is not eligible for JobSeeker or any other income subsidy.
“If the Government is really concerned about stopping the spread, I think they should put us on the agenda as well,” he said.
“They should be aware of that percentage of people that can’t stop working.”
If he does not get work over the next six weeks, Mr Arriola said he would try to move in with his girlfriend or borrow money.
“I won’t be able to pay rent anymore,” he said, noting returning to Mexico was not an option either.
“I don’t have money for the flight at the moment. They are really expensive.”
Full-time worker: ‘It’s going to come down to the workers’
Employers can stand down workers if there is no work available for them to do.
For those stood down as a result of the six-week shutdown, their financial fate depends on their ability to negotiate with their bosses.
Employees of large companies are in a particularly difficult position, with many large companies ineligible for JobKeeper.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Sally McManus, said whether employees ended up getting paid at all would vary from workplace to workplace.
“It’s really going to depend on how well unionised workers are or how well organised they are to be able to negotiate that,” Ms McManus said.
“What’s happened in a lot of other places is negotiations around taking of annual leave or taking half pay or other ways of being able to share in what’s happening.”
Wesfarmers, which owns Bunnings, Target, Kmart and Officeworks, employs 25,000 Victorians and has flagged that some will have to be stood down.
The company’s managing director, Rob Scott, told ABC Radio National stood-down employees would receive two weeks’ pay but after that workers would have to apply for government benefits.
“Unfortunately after that, team members would need to look at what … government subsidies are available,” he said.
Ms McManus called on the Federal Government to widen the eligibility for JobKeeper to ensure workers stood down would be paid, and called on employers to look after their staff.
“We need companies to make sure they’re looking after workers at this time, otherwise they may end up losing those workers,” she said.