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Australia Local councils stand down hundreds of employees as they are not eligible for COVID-19 JobKeeper program

03:45  07 april  2020
03:45  07 april  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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  Calls for councils to freeze rate rises in the face of COVID-19 crisis Local Government Minister David Templeman said the state government had already frozen rates, fees and charges and they were simply asking councils to do the same. Local Governments have again been urged to freeze rates and charges to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on household budgets. Premier Mark McGowan last week called on the sector to do its bit in reducing the burden on households, but by March 26 only the City of Perth, City of Albany and City of Bayswater had responded to the government's call.

This means that employees of businesses that shut down due to various restrictions – such as A person receiving the jobkeeper payment cannot also receive the jobseeker payment (formerly Eligibility has been expanded. At the moment, Australians out of work are not eligible for the

But despite many local councils being forced to shut public swimming pools and libraries due to COVID - 19 restrictions, the shutdowns haven’t “ Local government is an important part of community response. They are vital to continue to be there for the community when the community needs them .”

People are seen in long queues outside the Centrelink office in Southport on the Gold Coast, Monday, March 23, 2020. Centrelink offices around Australia have been inundated with people attempting to register for the Jobseeker allowance in the wake of business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. © AAP Image/Dan Peled People are seen in long queues outside the Centrelink office in Southport on the Gold Coast, Monday, March 23, 2020. Centrelink offices around Australia have been inundated with people attempting to register for the Jobseeker allowance in the wake of business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of council employees across Australia could be stood down without pay during the coronavirus pandemic.

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COVID - 19 has created an unprecedented demand for our services—especially unemployment insurance and Paid Family and Medical Leave. If you were not eligible for unemployment before the federal stimulus package was passed, we are asking you to wait to file for unemployment because our

“If you’re stood down , it’s already the case that employers can say you’ve got to use up your leave first, and they start running down your leave,” Burke told a “Under the JobKeeper process, businesses are required to first pay employees the JobKeeper funds and then be reimbursed at the end of each

Local governments — which employ around 190,000 people nationally, according to ABS data — are not able to access JobKeeper payments for their employees.

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Commonwealth would not be responsible for helping local governments throughout the pandemic.

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"If there is support necessary for local governments that will be provided by the state and territory governments," Mr Morrison said.

In Western Australia, more than 200 staff were stood down at the regional councils of Mandurah and Geraldton and the port city of Albany has announced it could be forced to do the same.

Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said given council staff were not covered by Federal and State Government financial packages, it was only a matter of time before they started laying people off.

"You can go into care and maintenance for a little while, but eventually the money is going to run out," he said.

Coupled with a rate freeze and rent relief for businesses, Mr Wellington said border closures and the cessation of the cruise ship trade had thrown the budget forecasts into chaos.

But the Australian Services Union (ASU) is appealing to councils to use their "often significant" reserves and continue to pay staff.

The union, along with the State Government, has called on councils not to stand staff down and redeploy them where possible.

Job losses could be imminent

West Australian ASU Branch Secretary, Wayne Wood, said the union had contacted more than 40 councils in WA asking what their intentions were because he believed thousands could be left without pay.

"We could be looking at 10,000 people being stood down in local government [in Western Australia]," he said.

Idled staff at 100 NSW councils to get more than JobKeeper

  Idled staff at 100 NSW councils to get more than JobKeeper A deal approved by NSW councils is the first large-scale renegotiation of pay and conditions under coronavirus to guarantee workers a wage if they are stood down.The state's councils overwhelmingly backed the deal, which is the first large-scale pay and conditions renegotiation during the coronavirus crisis to give workers guaranteed pay even if they have been stood down without work.

The union is already in discussions with Mandurah and Geraldton city councils.

Mr Wood praised Mandurah City Council for standing its members down with pay and looking at ways to redeploy as many staff as possible.

But he said Geraldton City Council has stood down staff who could still do their job or could work from home.

Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can be stood down without pay if they cannot do useful work because of an "equipment breakdown, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can't reasonably be held responsible".

Geraldton City Council CEO, Ross McKim, said the city's options were limited and staff who had been stood down were being paid their leave entitlements.

"Unlike a business, the funds collected by the council are local ratepayer's money," Mr McKim said.

"How do I look struggling local ratepayers in the face and ask them for money, when I am not using it for the benefit of the community as a whole?"

Geraldton City Council has forecast a $3 million operating loss due to a multi-million dollar drop in revenue.

Councils need to 'step up'

WA's Local Government Minister was unmoved by councils calls for help.

David Templeman said it was regrettable that "some councils" did not understand the gravity of the COVID-19 situation.

In a statement released to the ABC, Mr Templeman urged local governments to take a second look at their balance sheets and redeploy staff in other areas.

"All levels of government, in Australia and internationally, have been looking at their own budgets and stepping up to help their communities weather this difficult period," he said

"I also encourage them to keep as many projects going as possible, bring forward capital works programs where possible to keep people in jobs and consider deferring charges to support small business."

But Albany mayor Dennis Wellington said redeployment was not always a practical solution.

"You can redeploy some people… but you can't redeploy a librarian to drive a grader to make roads, because it's a skill set they don't have," he said.

Mental health concerns

The uncertainty is putting local government employees under stress during an already difficult time.

"I'm fielding calls where people are wondering how they're going to survive this pandemic," Mr Wood said.

"Some of my people don't get paid a lot of money and they are struggling to make ends meet and now they've got to worry about putting food on the table for their families."

The WA Local Government Association (WALGA) has estimated more than 6,000 employees (30 percent of local government workforce) could have their positions terminated without access to the JobKeeper program.

WALGA is urging the Federal Government to review its decision to exclude local governments from the program.

"If upheld, it could be devastating on our local economies, especially in our regional and remote communities where local governments is the major employer," WALGA Deputy President, Tracey Roberts, said.

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Idled staff at 100 NSW councils to get more than JobKeeper .
A deal approved by NSW councils is the first large-scale renegotiation of pay and conditions under coronavirus to guarantee workers a wage if they are stood down.The state's councils overwhelmingly backed the deal, which is the first large-scale pay and conditions renegotiation during the coronavirus crisis to give workers guaranteed pay even if they have been stood down without work.

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