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"We won't pay them to do nothing": Government casuals left in limbo

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Premier Steven Marshall says he is “happy” to lobby the national cabinet for the Federal Government’s JobKeeker payment to be extended to government enterprise workers, but his Treasurer is adamant “we won’t be paying them a wage for doing nothing”.

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Around 1000 casual workers stood down from government enterprise roles remain in limbo, despite the Premier’s claim that authorities are “looking at all sorts of ways that we can better utilise the skills that we have”.

Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri today confirmed the out-of-work staff would not be prioritised for 850 new coronavirus hotline call centre roles announced yesterday, which would instead go to people already employed across various government departments.

“This week 850 public sector staff will be trained for the call centre expansion,” she told InDaily in a statement.

“In the first instance, training will commence for current public sector employees who have been deployed from their agency… however, if there is a particular skillset that can’t be met with the current government employees, other considerations will be explored.’’

It’s understood Adelaide Venue Management Corporation, a publicly-owned corporation that runs the Entertainment Centre, Convention Centre and Coopers Stadium, has lobbied the State Government over the compensation arrangements for its 850 casual employees who have been effectively jobless for around a month, after it emerged government enterprises were ineligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy program introduced under the Commonwealth’s coronavirus response.

In a missive to staff last week, CEO Anthony Kirchner revealed he had “approached the most senior levels of government to make them aware of AVM’s situation, and more importantly that of its staff”.

“In respect to not being eligible for the JobKeeper payment, interstate-based whole-of-state government-owned entities similar to AVM are in the same position [and] no state government within Australia is yet to introduce a package that offers the financial support of the federal government’s JobKeeper payment,” he wrote.

“Being completely transparent, my feeling, rightly or wrongly, is that it’s unlikely that state governments will be in a position to do so, regrettably.”

He suggested staff “assess your eligibility for the JobSeeker Payment”, which has been doubled in recent weeks.

The corporation continues to employ several permanent staff as its kitchens run at “near full capacity” making pre-prepared meals for Meals on Wheels and other charities.

Asked in parliament last week whether he would “advocate to the national cabinet” for government enterprise workers “to get access to the JobKeeper payment, Marshall said: “That’s certainly something I would be very happy to take up at the national cabinet.”

He said while he would not instruct government-owned enterprises not to stand down workers in the interim, the Premier said: “I am happy to work with my colleagues on the national cabinet to advocate for all and everything that we can get into South Australia to support our state through this particularly difficult period.”

But Treasurer Rob Lucas today appeared to pour cold water over the notion, saying “that debate is essentially about casuals” and had been vetoed by the Morrison Government.

He said there may be some “mixing and matching” of public sector staff in emerging private sector roles, including for supermarket operators trying to keep up with demand.

But Lucas, whose last budget ensured all profits from government enterprises go directly to budget coffers, ruled out any further State Government assistance for their SA workers.

“We’re not looking at paying them a wage – they get JobSeeker and various other benefits, so the state is providing some additional assistance, but we’re not contemplating paying them a wage for doing nothing,” he said.

Asked whether government enterprise workers should be prioritised for new government roles, such as the call centre, he said: “I assume it depends on the skill set of those particular people.”

“If they’re ticket collectors and carpark attendants, I’m not aware of the skill sets of all the people [but] there may be capacity in other areas [to employ them] but I’ll leave that to the people making those sorts of decisions.”

Kirchner told InDaily today: “Adelaide Venue Management is supportive of the State Government’s efforts to have the JobKeeper payment extended to government corporations.”

“It makes no sense that with a person doing exactly the same job as another, be it a cleaner, chef or whatever, one is receiving the payment and the other not because they work for a state government-owned entity,” he said.

Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said either the federal criteria should be broadened or the state should act to retain government enterprise jobs.

“Clearly this is an opportunity for the Government not to worsen the economic crisis and not unnecessarily stand down workers,” he said.

“Even if their regular job isn’t able to be carried out as normal, there’s other work they could be doing.”

He suggested employees of the West Beach Trust, for example, could carry out maintenance and upgrade work, while AVM workers could broaden the current charitable support work being undertaken.

“If it means it’s helping the community get through this coronavirus pandemic better, then it’s a small price to pay,” he said.

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