Small business owners are expressing their frustration on social media in the wake of reports the federal government is considering winding back its JobKeeper wage subsidy program less than a week after payments started to flow.
More than 750,000 businesses have enrolled for the JobKeeper package, but there is now widespread speculation some firms could miss out, after news.com.au reported Treasury is considering options for curtailing the scheme, including by re-targeting specific industries or reducing the $1,500 subsidy itself.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison left the door open to adjusting the JobKeeper scheme on Monday, but said suggestions the scheme could be ended early or wound back were “very premature”.
“We are six weeks into a six-month program,” Morrison said.
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“The impact of the virus, how it will impact on Australia in the months ahead with a reopening economy is very much a work in progress.”
Morrison said the government wants to ensure support programs remain “targeted”, flagging future decisions would be made based on “the advice we have and our reading of the economy”.
“How that program [JobKeeper] can be adjusted to better support over that period, or if there are sectors that come under greater strain over a longer period of time, these are all things that the government is fully aware of,” he said.
Under JobKeeper legislation passed in April the scheme is slated to be reviewed in June.
Small business owners who had planned on receiving $1,500 fortnightly payments for six months took to social media overnight to express their confusion and frustration over reports the scheme could we wound back.
“They tried to pull this as long as possible without paying and now end of isolation in sight, they looking to stop the payment,” one Facebook user wrote.
“Probably NOT the best move if he wants to be re-elected,” another said.
Business owner and former Masterchef winner Julie Goodwin said the prospect of changes to the JobKeeper scheme were a “staggering breach of trust”.
“Talking about slashing it before it’s even rolled out? Unconscionable,” she tweeted.
Goodwin told SmartCompany last week she extended her home loan to pay her workers during April, expecting to receive back payments.
What a staggering breach of trust. Based solely on the word of this government, business owners have now paid 6 weeks’ worth of JobKeeper payments. I’m still waiting for the first reimbursement. Talking about slashing it before it’s even rolled out? Unconscionable.
— Julie Goodwin (@_JulieGoodwin) May 10, 2020
Many JobKeeper applicants still have not received their first round of payments under the scheme, with the Australian Taxation Office saying late last week some firms may have to wait until May 21 to be reimbursed for April wages.
Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Peter Strong says small business owners need certainty and clarity about the future of the scheme so they can make plans for re-opening over the coming months as coronavirus restrictions ease across the country.
“JobKeeper is not going to stop before September,” Strong says.
“They need to get the communications right. As always with small business we need certainty and clarification.”
Announced in March, the JobKeeper program is due to run through to the end of September, providing participating businesses with $1,500 fortnightly payments for each eligible employee they keep on their books.
With a prospective price tag of $130 billion, the scheme is the largest fiscal expenditure over a six month period in Australian history.
However, only about five million of the six million workers Treasury budgeted to be covered for the scheme have so far been enrolled, raising the possibility the program could track significantly under budget.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has broad authority under current JobKeeper legislation to vary eligibility rules, but with Parliament resuming on Tuesday, opposition small business spokesperson Brendan O’Connor said a JobKeeper wind-back should be the last thing on Morrison’s mind.
“With unemployment set to escalate and some businesses on the brink of collapse, the idea the economy will just ‘snap back‘ as the Prime Minister promised is completely misleading,” O’Connor said in a statement.
“The last thing the government should be doing is canvassing an early wind back of JobKeeper support when, even with restrictions easing, some industry’s will continue to struggle.”