Victorian sole traders desperate for state government support, as petition calls for inclusion in grants program

Wendy Chamberlain

Real estate buyers’ agent and Victorian sole trader Wendy Chamberlain. Source: supplied.

Desperate sole traders could be driven to break COVID-19 restrictions and risk huge fines just to keep their livelihoods, unless the Victorian government extends its grant support package.

That’s according to real estate buyers’ agent and sole trader Wendy Chamberlain, who has set up a petition calling on the Victorian government to provide more support for those without employees.

Stage four restrictions came into effect in Victoria this week, forcing even more businesses to shut up shop. But, while the government’s $5,000 Business Support Fund has been extended, offering a second wave of funding for Melbourne businesses, sole traders are still not eligible.

“I’ve been sitting, watching, waiting, hoping for six months now in this COVID situation, hoping the Victorian government would do the right thing, and they haven’t,” Chamberlain tells SmartCompany.

“There’s a lot of Victorian business owners who are tax-paying, who are doing the right thing, and they’re getting no support from the government,” she adds.

“They’re not listening. How do we get their attention? I didn’t know what else to do.”

Chamberlain has been able to access JobKeeper payments, but facing six weeks with no way of making any income at all, being able to access the $5,000 payment would make “a world of difference”.

And, while her husband is still employed, she stresses that many sole traders aren’t in such a fortunate position.

Many people will still be covering rent payments and other expenses. In fact, Chamberlain says she’s had conversations with people who don’t think their businesses will be able to survive.

“Already, people are saying they’re not going to come back from this,” she says.

“It’s going to put a lot of sole traders out of business, and what will that do to the Victorian economy?”

A sporting chance

Health and fitness industry association Fitness Australia has suggested that sole traders in the fitness space may be especially hard hit in this second wave of lockdowns.

Chief executive Barrie Elvish also called on the Victorian government to provide more support to the sole traders in this sector, saying they have “essentially been forgotten” in the grant program.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, 42.5% of sole traders in the fitness industry have lost more than 80% of their clients, Fitness Australia research suggests.

A further 47.5% say they have lost between 40% and 80% of their clients, and almost 20% say their revenue is down 100%.

Some 40% of sole traders in this space said their business would last less than four weeks without any government support.

Elvish urged the government to consider health and fitness programs as an essential service, “particularly when community anxiety is significantly heightened”.

“Protecting and managing mental health during this uncertain and concerning time is essential,” he said.

Desperate times

Ultimately, Chamberlain believes we may see sole traders in various sectors driven to desperation, and risking huge fines, and their health, just to put food on the table.

“They’ve imposed some of the harshest lockdowns in the world for six weeks,” she explains.

“You get very little notification about it, you have limited time to go out in the last day or two to source real income.”

She also notes that on one of those days it was raining. That might seem trivial, but for a sole trader who mows lawns or tends to roofs, that’s one more day they can’t make any money.

“We’re all trying to do the right thing,” she says.

But people are genuinely concerned about how they’re going to cope.

“You run the risk of people who would otherwise do the right thing [feeling like] what choice have they got but to go and potential break the rules?

“It’s not something I condone, but what other choice are they giving some people?”

When asked if she thinks sole traders would be likely to put themselves and others at risk in order to continue working, Chamberlain says “absolutely people will do it”.

“I don’t believe that’s the right way to approach it, and I don’t agree with it. But you can’t put yourself in the shoes of another person,” she says.

“People are being put under a lot of stress. And when you’re in a stressful situation and you get desperate, you’ll do whatever it takes,” she adds.

“The last thing we want to be doing is putting people in a situation where they feel the only way they can cope is to go out and break the rules.”

You can sign the petition here.

NOW READ: Retail stores to close and construction curtailed in Melbourne’s stage four restrictions

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frank
frank
1 month ago

I’m genuinely puzzled – why should Victorians subsidise a real estate buyers agent? She’s receiving Jobkeeper and her partner is still employed – her website says she’s open for business and people can still buy and sell real estate. Overheads are low in that industry so what is the rationale for other Victorian to subsidise this?

wENDY cHAMBERLAIN
wENDY cHAMBERLAIN
1 month ago
Reply to  frank

Hi Frank
Thanks for taking the time to comment.

The is a big difference between “can” and actually “doing”. A website “open for business” doesn’t mean that people are taking action to buy or sell. The pandemic has shaken buyer/seller confidence to the core.

I am not sure where you are based, but the Victorian Government has effectively stopped the real estate industry in it’s tracks by not allowing in person home inspections. Very few buyers are willing to buy a home without having seen it first. Many people looking to buy and sell will just wait it out, which is the feedback I’ve been hearing.

The government has offered a support package to small business of $800M, yet sole traders without employees are not eligible.

The petition is in support of every Victorian sole trader without employees.

For some reason folks such as yourself think that receiving JobKeeper is a magic panacea and if you get that “she’ll be right mate!”.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Sole traders in Victoria are hurting.

Take a look at the hundreds who’ve stated their reasons for signing on the petition to see the many, many comments very similar to this one:

“I own a small business of which I am the only employee. I have a commercial lease and I’m struggling to pay it. I receive JobKeeper, but that only just covers my living expenses. Small non-employee business needs grants too!
The government needs to assure that small business survives!”

and this one:

“Sole traders consistently support themselves and rarely ask for any help. During the biggest business challenge of our lives (imposed by the state government) we deserve to be recognised and supported through this pandemic!”

and this one:

“Soletraders are the life blood of small business. It is said by some ” We are All in this together ” Yet soletraders aren’t eligible for the support that others get.”

and this one:

“As a sole trader who employees contractors , I have the same overheads with a factory I have not been able to use now for 5 months with no end date in sight after 126 years will have to close with no government support. 40% of dance schools received funding while the 60% of us nothing. How is this fair?”

and this one:

“My husband is a sole trader and stage 4 restrictions mean he is unable to earn an income for the next 6 weeks. The bills and mortgages don’t stop despite the massive blow to income. Don’t discriminate against sole traders!”

There are hundreds more.

Wendy