By Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA) CEO Mark McKenzie.
If you have been following media statements in the past fortnight, you would have noticed that there have been increasing calls for additional government financial support for businesses – much of it as it become clear that the NSW lockdown was going to be longer than first anticipated. This conversation has been dominated by various stakeholders calling for the return of the JobKeeper initiative.
Fuel retail businesses have again been impacted by the lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. These issues have led to members contacting ACAPMA to ask what is being done in respect of financial (and other assistance) for distressed businesses.
We don’t advocate via the media or social platforms, so I understand why businesses that are under significant pressure right now are seeking assurance that their industry association is working hard for them.
Our approach to addressing these issues is to have ‘quiet but urgent’ conversations with government about the problems that are being experienced by businesses in our industry – and then discuss how the solutions that might be advanced to resolve these issues.
ACAPMA has been working on three priority issues over the past fortnight (in addition to resolving ad-hoc border issues and confusion over lockdown restrictions as government directions continue to evolve). These three issues are: (a) financial assistance for impacted businesses, (b) greater flexibility in the utilization of visa workers, and (c) the vaccination of front-line retail staff.
Financial Assistance for fuel businesses
Earlier last month, ACAPMA was advised that the re-establishment of JobKeeper would not occur given the architecture of the current outbreaks (ie, state by state lockdowns of varying nature). We were advised that our advocacy efforts would be better directed at possible changes to the JobSaver program and the Covid Disaster Payment.
The Job Saver program (see Covid-19 JobSaver payment – Guidelines | Service NSW) is a joint Australian government/NSW government program that is being administered by the NSW Government for impacted businesses across NSW. Unlike JobKeeper, where the money provided to businesses had to be passed in full to employees, the JobSaver program (which is being rolled out in NSW but is a national template for any future long term lockdown in any Australian state or territory) is designed to provide distressed businesses with urgent cash flow assistance.
The Covid Disaster Payment, on the other hand, is essentially the replacement of Job Keeper (see Covid-19 Disaster Payment – Services Australia). It is administered by the federal government and provides direct weekly payments to staff who have been stood down, or had their work hours reduced, as a result of their employer suffering through the Covid downturn.
Importantly, these two programs work together to provide financial assistance to both businesses and their employees. Under these arrangements, businesses impacted by the Covid lockdowns can stand down or reduce staff hours and the impacted staff are then able to apply for the weekly Covid Disaster payment.
The affected businesses are then able to utilize the JobSaver program to supplement cash flow where their revenues have declined by 30% or more during the lockdown – as compared with an equivalent period in 2019 (Note: There are provisions for other comparisons to be made in cases such as the business not trading two years ago, or the business having changed due to acquisition or divestment of sites in that time).
These two programs are good solutions and, in our view, are actually better than the measures used last year – but they did have some limitations for fuel businesses.
Specifically, we were concerned that the original eligibility (limited to businesses with revenue of up to $50 million annual turnover only) was too low given the high volume and low margin nature of our market.
ACAPMA was also concerned about the interpretation of the “maintain headcount” requirement of the Job Saver Program, giving rise to possible IR risks after the lockdown period has ended.
Numerous government representations were made in recent weeks to address these issues – at both federal government and NSW government level.
We were therefore very pleased to see the Prime Minister’s announcement this week that the eligibility for the Job Saver Program would be immediately increased from $50 million to $250 million annual turnover – and that the maximum weekly payment was lifted to 40% of payroll or a maximum $100,000 payment per week.
With regard to the IR risk surrounding the ‘maintain headcount’ requirement of Job Saver, we have since provided our members with comprehensive advice about practical compliance with this requirement – and the process to be used for stand-downs of staff.
With these changes now done, ACAPMA has commenced discussions with both governments about the need for transitional assistance arrangements after the lockdown as ended (as businesses seek to rebuild their damaged revenues) given that both programs immediately cease once the lockdown is lifted.
In the meantime, NSW members who are under pressure due to the lockdown are encouraged to apply for the assistance measures that are now available. Members should contact the ACAPMA Secretariat if they are experiencing any issues accessing these programs.
In the months prior to the most recent lockdowns, members had raised concerns about the difficulty of securing workers in the wake of the international border lockdowns which effectively halted the supply of visa workers into Australia. In addition to communicating this issue to government stakeholders, ACAPMA was asked ACAPMA to seek relaxation of the current restrictions on visa workers until the international borders are reopened.
Specifically, questions were asked about the opportunity to employ workers on student visas for more than 20 hours per week and whether it was possible to pause the regional movement requirement for 408 visa holders.
This has been a difficult conversation over several months, but ACAPMA is continuing to press the federal government for temporary changes in both of these areas and we will advise our members of any concessions if/when they are secured.
Vaccination of front-line workers
One of the interesting observations in the current lockdown is that supermarkets, chemists and service stations are figuring prominently in the contagion sites in these latest lockdowns. In fact, during the first four weeks of the NSW lockdown the number of contagion sites exceeded the total impacted during 20201 – despite the businesses being diligent with the same safety precautions.
These observations have led to a discussion about the opportunity to prioritize front line retail workers (including supermarket, pharmacy, fuel retail and other essential retail staff) – at least in NSW.
As with Visa workers, there are some issues in establishing this service, but ACAPMA understands that the NSW Government is working to establish priority sites for vaccination of front-line retail workers and we are working hard to secure the inclusion of service station staff in any early roll-out of this initiative.
Other Covid issues
In recent weeks there have been some issues that have arisen as a result of uncertainty of arrangements for the lockdown LGA’s in Sydney and cross border movements of fuel tankers between NSW and other states.
It is important to remember that state governments are working quickly to implement restrictions to protect the health of the community. Sometimes this ‘speed requirement’ means that mistakes are made in the drafting of restrictions.
I am pleased to report, however, that when these mistakes have been identified they have been addressed quickly via constructive engagement with government authorities.
Need further help?
The big message here is that, if you have a query or issue that arises as a result of the ever-changing COVID restrictions then you should make direct contact with the ACAPMA Secretariat on 1300 160 270 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For urgent issues, email Mark McKenzie at email@example.com or call 0447 444 011). These contact details can also be used for queries relating to access and eligibility for financial assistance.
In the meantime, ACAPMA will continue to communication changes to COVID restrictions and financial assistance packages via the regular ACAPMA Covid Roundup.
Covid or no Covid, we will continue to advocate for our members quietly in the background as we have successfully done for years. But if members want to discuss a particular industry issue that they believe needs to be addressed by government, then they should contact me.
Published with permission from ACAPMA.