Business groups seek ongoing virus support

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called for wage subsidies to be extended for selected industries including tourism and events beyond September.

ACCI chief executive James Pearson told a Senate hearing on Wednesday the employer group expected those sectors to continue to suffer after the six-month cut-off.

“Although the unemployment figures released last week are alarming, they would have been undoubtedly worse without JobKeeper in place,” he said.

“People in business are using JobKeeper to stay afloat and keep employees on, even with reduced hours.”

The scheme gives eligible businesses $1500 a fortnight to pass on to workers to keep them linked to jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Pearson said a program giving employers a 50 per cent wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees should also be extended beyond September.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said there was still time to assess the need for further changes to JobKeeper, which is being reviewed.

“A lot of businesses have their eye very firmly on the end of September, a period which we perceive to be the next time of great risk,” he told the coronavirus response inquiry.

“That is a period of time which we think has the potential to see further economic harm.”

He said businesses would need support and advice to manage cashflow once the wage subsidy payments stopped.

“For a lot of small businesses, to have that rug pulled from under them or that support pulled from under them will be quite devastating,” Mr Willox said.

The influential business groups have advised government throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Willox said the JobSeeker unemployment payment – boosted to $1100 a fortnight during the crisis – could not go back to its old rate of $40 a day.

“There will need to be stronger support for people,” he said.

“An increased payment … (must) be a part of that, to help people get by.”

Both ACCI and Ai Group are also pushing for industrial relations reform.

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