Coronavirus update for business: Rent relief on the way, retailers slam Morrison and is Jeff Bezos cancelled?

Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Rent relief finally on the way? Is Victoria about to shut the fuck down? Major retailers take aim at Scott Morrison. Solly Lew flips landlords the bird!?

It’s your daily small business #coronalife update folks, let’s jump into it.

Jeff Bezos in hot water?

Has the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, just asked the public to chip in to support sick leave for Amazon workers? Queue outrage.

Except, not really. But still, sort of. Bezos, the founder of $1 trillion e-commerce giant Amazon, has been copping flack for soliciting donations through the Amazon Relief Fund this week.

The fund was launched to provide sick leave for contract workers and seasonal employees through a grant program. Amazon chipped in $25 million to start the fund.

And while it’s true the text on the fund’s website did initially solicit public donations, with an included donation button, Amazon has since clarified this is actually a requirement of the fund’s structure.

The website language has since been updated to clarify that public donations are not expected, although the company says individuals can contribute if they desire.

Rent relief coming?

On the back of retail veteran and longstanding landlord critic Solomon Lew declaring his listed businesses, including Smiggle, Peter Alexander and The Just Group, would not pay rent during COVID-19 shutdowns yesterday, federal government negotiations with rentiers are progressing.

After the AFR published government sources raising the prospect of income tax relief for landlords that pass on relief yesterday, word has come through the wires that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is considering a ban on evictions.

National cabinet sat down this morning to consider these plans, among others, as the nationwide call for rental assistance for small businesses and residential renters grows.

Victoria and NSW to shutdown?

It comes as Victoria and NSW, Australia’s two most populous states and also those most adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, make the case for tougher lockdowns in their own states.

While discussions remain ongoing on Friday morning, both Premier Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian have been waiting to see how infection numbers respond to stage two lockdowns announced earlier this week.

Infections are continuing to mount, however, raising the likelihood a full-scale non-essential-services lockdown will be deployed, which would forcibly shutdown most retail stores in those states.

Retail veterans slam Morrison

That’s what a growing number of retailers actually want, it seems. Retail bigwigs including Accent Group’s Daniel Agostinelli, Lovisa boss Shane Fallscheer and chairman of Mosaic Brands Richard Facioni have called for a full lockdown, amid widespread criticism of Morrison’s incoherent policy.

Accent Group, owner of Hype DC and Athlete’s Foot, shut 522 stores yesterday and stood down 4,500 staff. Agostinelli tells the AFR the failure to shut down retail nationwide is “irresponsible” and placing staff and customers at risk.

Retailers are just the latest to question Morrison’s position on business lockdowns after the hairdressing sector rebelled earlier this week.

You have to wonder, if even CEOs and lobbyists are calling for a shutdown, why hasn’t it happened yet?

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann gave Australia a glimpse into the federal government’s rationale yesterday afternoon.

“Things are tough enough out there without political commentary undermining the medical advice and suggesting that we should close down even more businesses where the medical advice doesn’t we should,” he said.

“We are never going to close down businesses based on political decisions.”

There is, of course, plenty of medical advice that the shutdown should be extended, from the Australian Medical Association calling for further closures of non-essential services and a petition signed by thousands of doctors calling for a full-scale lockdown.

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