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Casual workers in firing line of coronavirus restrictions

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Casual hospitality and fitness workers have spoken out over fears they will struggle to support themselves in the lead up to Christmas as their industries hang in the balance amid a new round of coronavirus restrictions.

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The State Government reimposed a raft of coronavirus restrictions from midnight Monday in a bid to help limit a possible second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The broad ranging restrictions, which are likely to be in place for two weeks, included the closure of all gyms, recreation centres and play cafes.

Pubs, clubs and restaurants have also been affected with a cap at 100 per venue, while private gatherings at licensed venues have been limited to 50 people, with attendees to observe the one person per four square-meter guidelines.

Adelaide hospitality entrepreneur Josh Baker said about 40 casual workers across four of his seven food, wine and entertainment venues would lose their shifts, while permanent staff at the eateries would also be hit as a result of the most recent restrictions.

“We’re going to have to ask them to stand down or take leave without pay because we just don’t have the bank roll any more to support any more loss of business. It’s a disaster all around, I’m in complete shock,” Baker told InDaily.

“It probably would have been better … (to) lock us down for two weeks, take us off line. That means we’ve got negotiation power with our landlords to make sure our rent can be reflected, we can look after our full-timers with some annual leave and some leave entitlements that we can pay out.”

He said while three of the businesses had been eligible for the latest round of JobKeeper subsidies the other four joints would need to rely on skeleton staff – but if the restrictions continued for longer than two weeks, he would be forced to look at closing all of the businesses.

“I just feel completely and utterly in the dark,” Baker said.

“The fact of the matter is we were in a really good spot. We were looking heavily towards this December period, which is really great for us, and now it’s just a massive blow and we’ve gone backwards, ever so much.”

SA Hotels Association CEO Ian Horne said with the industry reliant on casual workers, he expected many in the hospitality sector would be without pay for the next fortnight.

“We will see … a number of casuals will simply lose their shifts and a number of permanent people will face being stood down again,” Horne said.

“The majority of people in the hospitality industry aren’t on JobKeeper, so they aren’t getting the federal government wage subsidy and you can’t just apply for it over a two-week period, you’ve got to apply for it over a quarter by quarter.”

In a statement, a State Government spokesperson said: “We understand these new restrictions are going to be difficult for some businesses and workers, which is why we only want these in place for a short time.”

“Our primary responsibility is to make sure whilst there might be some short-term additional stress for individuals and businesses in South Australia, it doesn’t turn into long-term pain like we’ve seen in other parts of the country and other parts of the world,” the spokesperson said.

“Casuals may still be able to access the Federal Government’s JobSeeker payment, while there are other grants and financial relief still available to businesses who are suffering hardship.”

But casuals looking to apply for JobSeeker payments would still need to wait at least two weeks after being granted approval for their first Centrelink payment.

According to the Services Australia website, JobSeeker applicants could expect to hear from the department “within 21 days” of submitting a claim.

Casuals may also have to wait a further one to 13 weeks if Services Australia assesses they or their partner have liquid assets.

Workers, including casuals, who have been instructed to self-isolate or quarantine at home for 14 days may be eligible for a state government pandemic leave disaster payment of up to $1500.

They may also receive an additional one-off $300 payment if they are identified as part of a coronavirus cluster.

In a statement, SA Health Minister Stephen Wade said: “the last thing we want is for any South Australian to have to make a choice between putting food on the table and protecting the community from possible infection and a potential second wave.”

“Lack of leave entitlements for workers, particularly casual workers, is considered a significant risk factor in not complying with isolation requirements,” Wade said.

Form Pilates and Barre co-owners Megan Martin and Clancy Sullivan in the studio before the latest shutdown.

CrossFit Tenacity personal trainer James Aldridge is among the casual workers without leave entitlements.

He has lost all of his work over the next two weeks and said he would try to pick up some labouring work in a bid to save some money in the lead up to Christmas.

“Last time was tough … I had no income coming in for a long period of time, so that was pretty stressful,” Aldridge said.

“I’m not quite sure if I’m eligible for any support payments this time and if it does go longer than two weeks I’m going to have to look and see if I can get any kind of support.”

Form Pilates and Barre co-owner Megan Martin, who works casually and employs four casual staff at the studio, said she also didn’t think she was eligible for any financial support.

“We don’t know what to do, we don’t know what we’re eligible for, if anything. It’s just really hard. I feel like we’re back at the beginning,” Martin said.

“The first shutdown I was told: You’re going to have to go apply for JobSeeker. Well, I can’t apply for JobSeeker because I’m married and he works.

“I’ve worked my whole life and I’ve never had benefits or anything like that.”

Martin said as the business had not been eligible for the latest round of JobKeeper payments she would not be able to pay her casual staff over the next two weeks.

“Hopefully it is only the two weeks, but it is a big impact for us as a small business. That’s two weeks of lost income and obviously I do worry about our staff as well. What are we meant to say to them? Sorry, don’t come into work now?”

She said she was trying to remain positive but it was hard not to feel anxious about the future.

“I guess it is just a worry of the unknown but all you can do is do the best that you can and try to get through this situation and hopefully it is only for two weeks,” Martin said.

“It’s just the stress of the unknown.”

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