Present tense

JobKeeper 2.0

JobKeeper continues to be a lifeline for the ELICOS industry. However, from late September, the rules around JobKeeper have changed. First of all, participating employers will need to requalify for the scheme, by demonstrating actual revenue loss (as measured by GST), of 30% for smaller businesses and 50% for larger ones (15% for not-for-profits). Notwithstanding that most ELICOS and business colleges have continued to struggle, it’s quite possible that some colleges will not be eligible for JobKeeper this time around.

On top of this, the entitlements for eligible employees will start to reduce. For the pay period after 27 September 2020, the fortnightly pay under JobKeeper comes down from $1500 to $1200, with a further reduction in January 2021, to $1000 per fortnight. There is now also a part-time rate, of $750 per fortnight from October to December, and $650 per fortnight from January.

To qualify for the full-time (or Tier 1) JobKeeper rate, and employee must have worked at least 80 hours over the relevant four-week period. If an employee has worked less than this, then they will get the lower, Tier 2 rate. Members should be aware that the award provides that each teaching hour is equivalent to 1.5 working hours, so if you were teaching a normal 20 hours teaching week during the relevant period, then that equates to 30 working hours.

If you have any issues with the new JobKeeper arrangements, contact your union.

Paid pandemic leave

Since the start of the pandemic, the union movement has been pushing hard to make paid pandemic leave the norm. Pleasingly, for employees in NSW this is now reality. The Premier State was slow to the party (most other states already have schemes up and running), but from now on, any NSW employee with no leave entitlements will be eligible for a $1500 payment for each 14-day period where they are directed by NSW Health to self-isolate or quarantine.

This is a great outcome for NSW workers, especially in the ELICOS sector, where casual employment (and thus no paid leave) is the norm, and it is a testament to the many thousands of union members who petitioned the government for such a scheme.

Industrial Relations Working Party

Some months ago, the federal government brought together a working party of unions and business leaders to find common ground around changes to industrial relations laws. Given the inherent conflict between the wish lists of each side, finding such common ground was always going to be a tall ask, and so it has proved, with the group breaking up with little to show for it.

Indeed, according to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, some of the employer groups were less concerned about “wanting to reach common ground and advance the national interest”, but rather tried “to use the opportunity to undermine working people’s rights at a time of unprecedented national crisis”. As members would expect, the ACTU sought to improve protections for workers, however some of the employer groups sought to undermine them.

The Federal Government has previously suggested that they would bring forward legislation around industrial relations changes regardless of what came out of the working group, but so far no timeline has been announced for this, and given the contentious nature of such changes, members should remain vigilant.

International students

Given Australia’s relative success in fighting the pandemic, the nation may have a good story to tell when the borders reopen again, as a safe destination in which to study. However, that may yet be undermined by two major factors working against it.

First of all, the pipeline of students coming from China may be disrupted by the ongoing war of words between the governments of the two countries. There is little doubt that China under Xi Jinping is flexing its muscles on the world stage and is not taking kindly to countries that push back. Australia, of course, is only a middle power, at best, and so not likely to figure high in Xi’s considerations, but given our status as a loyal US ally, we seem likely to cop a fair degree of collateral damage, and this will include our access to Chinese students.

The second problem is more of our own making. Unlike many other countries, Australia has made no effort to reach out to international students already here, and with many casual jobs disappearing in the economic fall-out from the pandemic, there is growing bitterness among international student groups about being left out to dry by the Australian government.

As the pandemic took hold in Australia in March and April, Scott Morrison made no bones about his view that temporary vias holders were on their own, and that “if you are a visitor to this country, it is time … to make your way home”. For many students, this was not so easy. Many have invested their life savings to make a new life here, and they feel let down by their adopted country, with terms like “cash cows” and “ATMs of the Australian government” coming out in research.

It could be that Australia will need to work extra hard to attract international students when the borders re-open. It will take more than a shrimp on the barbie next time around.

Kendall Warren