Resources for Australian Workers Stood Down Due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Learn more about support for stood down and redundant employees.

Resources COVID-19 Australian Workers

April 1st, 2020

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has had far-reaching implications for Australian businesses. The Australian Qantas Group, for example, is set to stand down about 66 percent of its 30,000 employees. Similar patterns have been observed among smaller businesses, some of which have made employees redundant. Many are in need of material support.

In this article, we detail the conditions under which Australian workers can be stood down or have their positions declared redundant, as well as key resources that are available to affected individuals.

Key Concepts:

Stand down: A period during which employees are temporarily released from work due to circumstances that are beyond their control. Stand downs are designed to "freeze" the employer-employee relationship as an alternative to termination.

Redundancy: When employees are permanently released from a job because their functions are no longer required due to changes in operations, or when a business becomes insolvent or bankrupt.

What To Do if You Have Been Stood Down or Declared Redundant Due to COVID-19:

1. Determine why your circumstances have changed.

The Fair Work Act 2009 dictates the conditions under which workers can be stood down or have their positions declared redundant. Before tapping into available resources, be sure to understand the reason(s) for your change in circumstances and that your employer's decisions are congruent with the applicable legislation.

When can employees be stood down without pay?

Employees can be stood down without pay when they cannot be meaningfully employed due to a stoppage of work caused by any factor for which employers cannot be held responsible. Accordingly, employers must be able to illustrate that:

  • there is a cessation of work,
  • workers to be stood down are unable to be usefully employed (this is not restricted to employees' typical work), and
  • the factor(s) which precipitated the stoppage of work is one that the employer cannot be held liable for.

Generally, factors such as a decline in business conditions or an employee's COVID-19 status do not constitute legitimate grounds for instructing workers to stand down. Employees that are stood down unlawfully will usually be able to recover their unpaid wages.

When can employees' positions be declared redundant?

A redundancy is different from being stood down in that it is permanent. It must also come with some payment and requires notice. Typically, an employee can be declared redundant if the business goes under or if it genuinely has no need for the employee's work.

It is important to know where you stand with your employer because if you can still take long service leave or annual leave from your work, you will not be able to access government payments. If you are stood down or made redundant, you will be able to claim support from the federal government.

If you suspect that you have been unfairly stood down or had your position rendered redundant without cause, be sure to contact the Fair Work Commission for support.

Most of the benefits listed below can be accessed on the myGov and Centrelink websites. Users will need to make a myGov account and then link it to the Centrelink service. However, please be aware that these sites are undergoing regular crashes due to unprecedented levels of traffic.

2. Ascertain whether you are eligible for the JobKeeper Payment.

Employees who have been stood down may be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment. This entails an amount of A$1,500 per fortnight (before tax) that employers can claim from the government on behalf of their staff. Payments are available for six months as of 30 March 2020.

In order to be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment, stood down individuals need to hold full-time or part-time positions. Casual employees will only qualify if they have worked for their employer for the last 12 months or more.

Moreover, employees need to be Australian citizens or holders of permanent visas, Special Category visas, protected Special Category visas, or non-protected Special Category visas. In the latter instance, only those who have been residing in Australia continually for at least ten years will be eligible.

Note that those who receive the JobSeeker Payment may not be eligible for income support rendered by Services Australia.

3. Claim the JobSeeker Payment and other benefits.

As of 20 March 2020, the Australian government has introduced the JobSeeker Payment as the main source of wages for Australian-based workers without jobs and who are currently looking for work. Those who are out of work because of being infected with COVID-19, needing to self-isolate, or needing to care for loved ones can apply for the JobSeeker Payment, the Youth Allowance, or the Parenting Payment.

Also, the eligibility criteria for the JobSeeker Payment, as well as the Youth Allowance, have been expanded to include sole traders, the self-employed, and those caring for people infected with COVID-19 or who are in self-isolation. From the 27th of April, the government will also be waiving the Liquid Assets test Waiting Period, so those with savings will also be able to apply.

The payment itself has also been temporarily doubled, effective 27 April 2020. So, both new and existing income support recipients will receive a A$550 Coronavirus Supplement every two weeks for the next 6 months. This supplement is in addition to the usual JobSeeker Payment and will be automatically paid to eligible individuals.

However, if you are getting annual leave or sick pay, you will not be eligible for the JobSeeker Payment. You will only be able to apply when your annual or sick leave runs out.

4. Take advantage of payments to support households.

Benefit recipients, including those receiving the Newstart Allowance, Family Tax Benefit, pensions, social security payments, veteran support, and those with concession cards will be receiving two A$750 cash payments. The first payment will be applied on 31 March and be sent out by mid-April while the second payment will be made from 13 July 2020.

Note that those who receive the Coronavirus Supplement are not eligible for the second payment.

Planned Government Aid:

  • A total fiscal and monetary stimulus worth A$189 billion.
  • New A$550 Coronavirus Supplement available for 6 months for anyone who loses a job or is already unemployed.
  • Cash payments of up to A$100,000 to small businesses, loan guarantees, support for apprentices, and doubling unemployment benefits.
  • Students can access coronavirus-related benefits.
  • The Reserve Bank of Australia will cut interest rates to 0.25% and will keep 3-year government bond yields at the same level, as well as a term funding facility of up to A$90 billion to support business credit.
  • Up to A$15 billion will be invested to help smaller lenders to support businesses and consumers.

5. Access your superannuation.

If you have been financially impacted by COVID-19, you can access up to A$20,000, tax-free, from your super. Up to A$10,000 of your superannuation can be accessed before 1 July 2020 from your retirement savings, with a further A$10,000 from 1 July until 24 September 2020. You can apply through the myGov website once the legislation has passed and the service is up and running. It should be available on 20 April.

To access this early release of funds, you must either:

  • be unemployed,
  • be eligible for the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, special benefit, or farm household allowance,
  • have been made redundant or had your working hours reduced by 20% or more since 1 January 2020,
  • or be a sole trader whose business has been suspended or whose turnover has been reduced by 20% or more since 1 January 2020.

Note that you should carefully consider the pros and cons of withdrawing from your superannuation. The super industry body has warned that Australians will be out up to A$120,000 by the time they retire as they will have missed out on the earn back value in the years to come. As such, this should be your last resort after other government funding has been depleted.

6. Claim workers' compensation.

If you are infected with COVID-19 and can prove that your job played a significant role in you catching the virus, you may be able to claim workers' compensation. You will need to prove that there is a definite link between your work and catching COVID-19, but you may be able to receive financial help.

7. Take advantage of insurance breaks.

Some insurers will suspend your premiums in times of financial hardship without enforcing a break in cover. You may also be able to claim if you have income protection and meet the policy requirements. If you think you may be stood down or declared redundant soon, contact your insurer and they can walk you through the process.

If you currently have a loan or mortgage, you should also contact your bank or lender to see if you can take a repayment holiday. You can also use "rent check" on Centrelink to see if you qualify for a Centrelink advance loan or rent assistance. Your utility provider should also be able to help you with smaller payment installments or emergency utility vouchers.

8. Consider a quick income method.

There are some job options that don't require qualifications and that people can do online from home for some extra cash. You can consider online jobs such as doing surveys for marketing companies, user-testing websites, and content writing.

Another option is farm work. According to North Queensland farmers, the lack of backpackers and tourists due to the borders being closed means that farms will be short on labor for the harvest period. The horticultural sector relies heavily on backpackers and foreign tourists for labor during harvest, but now that the borders are closed, farmers are encouraging locals to apply to work on farms.

If you have recently lost your job due to COVID-19 and are in the North Queensland area, you should consider applying as a farmhand to help with the harvest. As the harvest season picks up in May and June, consider registering on the harvest trail.

9. Non-Australian citizens may also receive COVID-19 payments from the Australian government.

Foreign workers, non-citizens, foreign students, and those on the pathway to citizenship may also be in line to receive a governmental Coronavirus Supplement.

Currently, people in Australia on temporary visas and other non-Australian residents are not eligible for benefits. However, all visa categories are currently being examined to see if welfare should be given and Senator Ruston has been given autonomy to make changes to social services without having to wait for parliamentary approval.

If you are currently in Australia on a temporary work visa but have lost your job, you will need to contact the Department of Home Affairs on 131 881 and the government will consider supplement payments on a case-by-case basis. Also, the government is working on resolving visa status so that you can get a job in the agricultural sector, picking and packing fruits and vegetables.

10. Take care of your mental well-being.

Losing your job is not necessarily your fault. Unfortunate circumstances mean that the country's unemployment rate is set to skyrocket and it will be challenging to get benefit grants and find a new job. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 if you are struggling with emotional or mental distress. In an emergency, you can call 000.

Jobs to Apply for if You've Been Laid Off due to COVID-19:

  • Call center operators, especially at Telstra (which is in need of 1,000 temporary contractors) and Centrelink (which will be boosting its call center with 5,000 extra workers).
  • Supermarket workers, such as at Coles (which is in need of 5,000 casual team members across Australia).
  • Cleaners.
  • Nurses.
  • BHP is looking for 1,500 short-term workers in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and New South Wales. Jobs include truck drivers, mechanics, boilermakers, production operators, cleaners, and warehouse staff.
  • Fruit and vegetable picking and packing across Australia.
  • Delivery driver, such as at Domino's.
  • NSW Government communication specialist.
  • Randstad is looking to employ call center nurses for the Coronavirus hotline.
  • IT systems admins and IT call center staff.
  • Online tutoring.
  • Volunteering at charities.
  • Casual laborer.
  • Couriers.

You can make use of Seek, Indeed, and Jora to find literally thousands of casual job openings.

COVID-19 Resources for Australia:

FAQs:

What is the difference between being stood down and having your position declared redundant?

In Australia, "stand down" refers to a temporary period during which employees are relieved of their duties without pay due to business stoppages that are beyond the reasonable control of their employers. Redundancies, by contrast, occur when employees are permanently released from a job due to operational changes or financial predicaments.

Which jobs are in demand during the COVID-19 outbreak?

  • Call center operators, especially at Telstra (which is in need of 1,000 temporary contractors) and Centrelink (which will be boosting its call center with 5,000 extra workers).
  • Supermarket workers, such as at Coles (which is in need of 5,000 casual team members across Australia).
  • Cleaners.
  • Nurses.
  • BHP is looking for 1,500 short-term workers in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and New South Wales. Jobs include truck drivers, mechanics, boilermakers, production operators, cleaners, and warehouse staff.
  • Fruit and vegetable picking and packing across Australia.
  • Delivery driver, such as at Dominoes.
  • NSW Government communication specialist.
  • Randstad is looking to employ call center nurses for the Coronavirus hotline.
  • IT systems admins and IT call center staff.
  • Online tutors.
  • Volunteers at charities.