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OPINION: Being better starts with you, Prime Minister

Written by United Workers Union National President Jo-Anne Schofield

The Corona-Crisis has exposed the deep fault-lines of inequality in Australia and around the globe.

Australia has 3.3 million workers in insecure work.  These are workers who live week to week, often in casual or gig-type shifts in sectors like hospitality, clubs, pubs, tourism, sport and the arts.    There’s been a lot of talk about the impact of COVID-19 on these businesses – and rightly so. Many will be forced to dramatically scale back services, or close for a period, perhaps permanently.

But it is the workers in these businesses that will bear the brunt of the economic consequences of COVID-19.  Surely it’s time to talk about them.

The United Workers Union is hearing daily stories of workers being treated as disposable in a downturn.  Many are losing shifts or being stood down with little more than an email and the Centrelink number.

These are the workers who brew our coffee, pour our beer, cook or serve our food in restaurants.  They are paid modestly at best, with many living below the poverty line. They do not have leave to tide them over.  They can’t work from home.  They still need to pay rent and put food on the table, finance their studies, and support their families.

Particularly vulnerable are migrants, working here on temporary visas whose livelihood is tied to that of their employer.  These are the invisible workers who keep our kitchens, farms and other services going.  They lack basic access to Medicare or welfare payments.  Many are from countries whose borders may shortly close.  What will happen to them?

These are the workers who already struggle with insecure jobs, exploitation and wage theft.  They are the workers who saw thousands of dollars ripped out of their pay packets due to penalty rate cuts.

They have been, for many years, existing at the pointy end of inequality.

This Federal Government has willingly turned its back on these workers by failing to show leadership and support all Australians during this crisis.  As of today, all that is being offered is that workers can join the long queues at Centrelink and hope for small change to tide them over.

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison when urging us to “stop hoarding” said “that is not who we are as a people.”

Yes, we can be better, but so can our government. Just look to overseas for an example of bold action to support workers:  Ireland has introduced a COVID_19 payment  for anyone who is unemployed or has their hours cut.  Denmark will cover 75 per cent of private sector employees’ salaries if bosses don’t cut staff.  New Zealand’s package includes sick leave and isolation payments, as well as subsidies to keep workers in jobs.

If we truly are to be better, it starts with you, Prime Minister.  But we have to worry that again, the Prime Minister will turn a blind eye to hospo and other workers facing more uncertainty.  We have to worry that he will again, let them down.