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Op-Ed: JobKeeper misses mark for accom workers, “people will die”

Melbourne hotelier Neil Devonport reached out to accomnews, explaining his absolute frustration with a new government stimulus package that alienates countless accom and tourism businesses around Australia.

We are begging the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene and get the support package right, so it supports those who support us. We can’t contact anyone in government, they simply are not contactable.

The federal government’s new JobKeeper program, while welcomed, is completely missing the mark when it comes to the accommodation industry. It fails to take into account the extremely high rate of Working Holiday Visa and Student Visa holders making up much of the accommodation industry’s workforce.

These roles cannot be filled by other Australians: in general, when adverts are placed for new staff, few if any Australian citizens apply.  I would imagine the same issues apply to the retirement industries, food and beverage sectors, retail and many more businesses.

It is commonplace for up to 90% of a housekeeping department to be made up of these visa holders as it is in maintenance and ground-keeping roles.

In Feb 2020, our company employed some 52 staff across three Melbourne locations, today it is less than 25!

From that 52 staff, only four are eligible for the JobKeeper program, the same four who could have received Centrelink payments.  We appreciate the support that four team members will get, but let’s look after everyone, otherwise they can’t look after us.

Our concerns are with the other 48 staff, many of whom can’t find work, can’t get government assistance, can’t go home due to border closures and can’t find work due to essential social isolation rules.

We need the government to open its heart and wallet further to these people because without help they will be destitute with little capacity to support themselves.

People will die, simply they will!

Neil Devonport

Neil Devonport has been involved in the accommodation industry since the age of 15, having spent almost his entire life managing small accommodation businesses in New Zealand and Australia. As the founder and Director of Apartments of Melbourne, one of Melbourne highest ranked accommodation groups, Neil leads a team of over 50 who manage 150 apartments across three locations.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Neil,

    I hadn’t thought of the issue with Visa’s. Just another example of the Jobkeeper payment not suiting our industry.

    In regional Australia we have difficulty getting casual cleaners because the work is intermittant and hours required varies significantly from one week to the next. Staff turnover is high. Of three casuals we have only one has been with us for over 12 months, and she has been off on Workcover for 2 months, so probably doesnt qualify either. She wasnt technically on our books on the 1st March 2020.

    With the increase in payments to the unemployed our cleaners would earn more money if they didnt work. In our region have already seen this happening. It will be harder still to find casual staff. Just one more issue to contend with in an industry that has been descimated by this virus.

  2. Thanks for writing this Neil,

    We hear you loud and clear – our entire workforce bar one was made up of either Student Visa holders or part-timers who have been with us less than 12 months. We find ourselves completely hamstrung as a business and unable to support our staff in any way, and the one who is eligible for the payment is unsuited to actually doing any of the work we need done (in terms of skills, physical location and any desire to work at this time).

    I realise that there needs to be restrictions to prevent abuse of government payments, but an industry specific template is urgently needed to allow for variations. It’s not overly dramatic to state that people will die. The public thinks that small businesses are being handed money on a plate – without any concept of the reality. The money that will eventually trickle through is a drop in the ocean. Instead of putting food on our plates or allowing our businesses to survive, it’s gobbled up in interest charges/ rent/rates etc before it even arrives. And while we peddle furiously underwater to try and achieve the best we can for our staff – we get attitude for sitting back on our ‘giant piles of cash’ and not doing enough to support them.

    I guess we all sit back and wait for the next press release – but I sure hope it comes soon.

  3. We always have 1 casual staff member for housekeeping (and sometimes 2 during the busy season). Unfortunately, this position has been filled by 5 different people over the past 12 months.
    Our latest employee was working for us from October last year and still employed at March 1. We were planning to keep her on into the busy season (normally starting at Easter), however we have had to let her go. She is an Australian living locally and indicated that she was happy to keep working.
    She misses out on the Jobkeeper allowance, as she wasn’t employed for 12 months. Now she is on unemployment benefits, and we don’t have a staff member.
    If she was on JobKeeper, we would keep her working and have some work that she could keep doing (although not a full workload). As it is, my husband and I are now doing everything and being overworked.

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