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?”
With $3000 a month making car repayments, house rent, elec and gas bills. Not even talking about rego, insurance and other business expenses. And after sept even reduced jobkeeper payment. God save us sole traders
— Rafiahmed (@Rafiahm62159120) August 6, 2020
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.
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.”