The Government's JobKeeper And Jobseeker Coronavirus Payments Explained

In light of the economic ramifications of the coronavirus outbreak in Australia, the government announced a new suite of welfare packages back in March to help Australians who've found themselves out of work with the new shutdown restrictions or economic downturn. Among them are the JobKeeper and Jobseeker payments, which are a little confusing at first. Here's what you need to know and some common questions you might have.

What are the JobKeeper payments and how do I get them?

On March 30, the Morrison Government announced it would be offering businesses a wage subsidy to keep staff on until the restrictions are eventually lifted. It's called the JobKeeper Payment and the idea is that the government, through the ATO, will pay $1,500 to businesses per fortnight per employee for up to 6 months so long as they're eligible.

That payment would need to be passed on to the employee and would start being pushed out from the first week of May but businesses could receive back-dated payments from 30 March 2020.

The interesting part here is that employees who have been let go after 1 March could essentially be rehired and paid this $1500 per fortnight while stood down. This would apply to full-time, part-time and long-term casuals who'd been at the role for 12 months or more.

The catch is you'll need to wait for your employer to apply for the payment through the ATO in order to be able to receive it. Eligible businesses or the self-employed would have to adhere to the following criteria:

  • their business has a turnover of less than $1 billion and their turnover will be reduced by more than 30 per cent relative to a comparable period a year ago (of at least a month), or
  • their business has a turnover of $1 billion or more and their turnover will be reduced by more than 50 per cent relative to a comparable period a year ago (of at least a month), and
  • the business is not subject to the Major Bank Levy
  • The employer must have been in an employment relationship with eligible employees as at 1 March 2020, and confirm that each eligible employee is currently engaged in order to receive JobKeeper Payments.
  • Not-for-profit entities (including charities) and self-employed individuals (businesses without employees) that meet the turnover tests that apply for businesses are eligible to apply for JobKeeper Payments.

But that's the not only criteria you'll have to fulfil. The employees will also need to ensure the following:

  • are currently employed by the eligible employer (including those stood down or re-hired);
  • were employed by the employer at 1 March 2020
  • are full-time, part-time, or long-term casuals (a casual employed on a regular basis for longer than 12 months as at 1 March 2020)
  • are at least 16 years of age
  • are an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, a Protected Special Category Visa Holder, a non-protected Special Category Visa Holder who has been residing continually in Australia for 10 years or more, or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa Holder
  • are not in receipt of a JobKeeper Payment from another employer.

What if I usually earn less than $1500 a fortnight?

Then you're in luck because your employer must pay you a minimum of $1500 a fortnight.

"To be able to claim the JobKeeper payment for an eligible employee, that employee must be paid a minimum of $1,500 income per fortnight, before tax is withheld," a document from the Treasury reads.

"Employers cannot pay their employees less than $1,500 per fortnight and be entitled to a payment for that employee."

If you were earning more, the government is still only providing that $1,500 dollar sum to your employer so they'll need to top up your wage in accordance with the relevant employment awards.

Can my employer make me do tasks I don't normally do?

According to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), an employer is within their right to ask you to undertake tasks you might not usually do. This means you could be asked to clean or organise an office when you would normally take customer calls so long as it's a reasonable request.

"An employer that is entitled to the JobKeeper payment can direct an employee to perform any duties that are within the employee's skill and competency. The employer can give the direction for the period for which they are entitled to receive JobKeeper payments for the employee," the FWC's entry reads.

Additionally, employers can ask JobKeeper recipients to undertake the work on different days or at different times compared to their usual schedule.

"The employee must consider the request and must not unreasonably refuse it," the FWC's site reads.

"The agreement cannot have the effect of reducing the employee's number of hours of work, compared with their ordinary hours of work."

I've since gotten another job but my previous employer wants to apply for JobKeeper, can I take both payments?

According to the Treasury's document, you can work in another role as well as your previous role and receive both payments so long as you're maintaining your employment and you qualify for the payments.

"The JobKeeper Payment is not income-tested, so you may earn additional income without your payment being affected as long as you are eligible and maintain your employment (including being stood down) with your JobKeeper-eligible employer," the document reads.

It adds you'll need to still be a permanent employee of your primary employer, per the eligibility requirements, and not a permanent employee of two places. In the real world, this could mean getting JobKeeper payments for your long-term casual role you were recently fired from as well as a new casual position so long as you're still keeping the long-term role as your primary one.

You won't be able to receive two JobKeeper payments, however, or both the JobKeeper and Jobseeker (more on that below) at the same time.

How are Jobseeker coronavirus payments different and how do I get them?

The Jobseeker supplement was revealed in mid-March prior to the JobKeeper changes and includes direct payments to those without work due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, those receiving income support payments already from the government, such as youth allowance or a parenting payment, will be given a further $550 a fortnight on top of their regular benefit payment starting from 27 April 2020.

It applies automatically to those already receiving payments on:

  • Jobseeker Payment
  • Youth Allowance Jobseeker
  • Parenting Payment
  • Farm Household Allowance
  • Special Benefit

Additionally, if you're in a relationship and your partner is earning $80,000 or less, you'll still be eligible to receive the payments. Previously, that cut off number was $48,000.

What can I do if I suspect an employer is acting unfairly?

If you suspect your employer is trying to do something unlawful, there are a few steps you can take. The first one is to have an open discussion about the issue and ask them where they're getting their information from.

If that doesn't work, however, you can take it further.

If you're a part of a union, it's a good idea to ask them for advice but if you're not, you can always send an email to the Fair Work Ombudsman who can point you in the right direction. To submit an inquiry, head here.

Alternatively, you can also discuss your situation with the Fair Work Commission. It's a bigger step but it can mediate a dispute between an employee and employer if a JobKeeper direction is disputed. You'll have to download a dispute form from the FWC and then email it to [email protected]


This article was originally published on 31 March but has been updated with additional information.

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