Government’s JobKeeper decision arouses ire in the screen industry

09 April, 2020 by Don Groves

Australian actors, producers, writers, directors and crew members have slammed the Federal Government’s decision to deny access to the JobKeeper wage subsidy to freelancers and other casual workers.

Meanwhile already stressed exhibitors are worried about having to cash flow payments to workers until they are reimbursed by the government, so some of their staff will miss out and have to claim the JobSeeker payment.

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The legislation was passed by the Senate late last night after amendments by Labour and the Greens to provide a support package for the arts and entertainment sector, most of whose workers are ineligible, were defeated.

The MEAA said tens of thousands of freelance and casual performers and crew – and many of their employers – will not get the $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy.

“Freelance employees and many loyal casuals will – without urgent changes to the JobKeeper rules, be at least $200 a week worse off. For those who were earning more than $1,500 per fortnight, the losses are greater,” said MEAA CEO Paul Murphy.

Murphy cited data which shows 47 per cent of businesses in the the arts and recreation sector and 65 per cent in media and telecommunications are still operating.

“It is hard to comprehend why the government would, through inaction, seek to compound this damage,” he said.

Many creatives vented on social media, typified by actor John Batchelor, who posted on Facebook: “Artists and casual/contract workers in the cultural and creative industries have just been utterly abandoned by this government.

“It is the final blow in a hateful and irrational ideological war that has seemingly been waged against the sector the entire time they have been in power.

“Our film and television, theatre, dance, visual art, music and events industry may never recover from this tragic day.”

Producer Greer Simpkin: “My rant today is to thank all the actors who bring Australian stories to life – whether on stage or on our screens. Our stories would be nothing without you. You all rock. And, like all arts practitioners, you should have been included in the bill yesterday.”

Director Heath Davis: “In Australia 🇦🇺 artists contribute nothing to society according to our government. The teenager working for pocket money at Bunnings has more respect than the 40 year career artist.”

DOP Marty Smith in a tweet to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg: “As you sit relaxing in front of the tv, streaming your film or drama series remember this, EVERY PERSON involved in the show, from the A list actor, to the runners are out of work. They have lost 100 per cent of their income and under your scheme most are ineligible.”

Meanwhile, most indie exhibitors will not be able to nominate some or all their staff for JobKeeper due to lack of adequate funds, according to Independent Cinemas Australia CEO Adrianne Pecotic.

“The biggest challenge is how indie exhibitors will cash flow these payments with zero revenue. Cinemas are shut, creditors are outstanding and fixed costs are continuing,” she tells IF.

“We are working hard to assist members understand what support is available and examine the detail of the legislation, commercial tenancies code etc. I am concerned that too much relies on the goodwill of banks and landlords and the skills/leverage of small business to deal with them. Members are in the thick of those negotiations right now with many still ‘waiting for a call.’”

The major chains are facing the same challenges. “Our cinema operators will need to find the cash flow to cover $750 per week for each qualified employee from March 30 until it is reimbursed in the first week of May,” National Association of Cinema Operations executive director Michael Hawkins tells IF.

“For businesses employing hundreds of staff, that will be an enormous imposition, especially when many of their casual staff might have been earning much less than $750 per week.

“Some casuals, because of school commitments, for example, might have only worked three or four hours per week, but will also be entitled to $750 per week. Hopefully banks will come to the party.”

Hoyts CEO Damian Keogh expects a large percentage of his work force will qualify, observing: “The welfare of our employees is our priority despite the cash flow. We will find a way.”

At Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell has 87 employees whom he thinks are eligible for the subsidy, which would cost $400,000 to fund over the next month.

Dell would prefer to be able to nominate 38 key staff, which would cost $170,000 in installments on April 12, April 27 and May 11, but he may have to wait for reimbursement as late as May 15.

The MEAA and Screen Producers Australia are not giving up on the campaign to extend the subsidy.

Murphy says: “MEAA members have a clear message for Arts Minister Paul Fletcher: step up and defend the community that looks to you as its voice in the government. It is his job to make the system accessible and relevant to our sector.

“MEAA will also continue to harness our members’ strength to push for industry rescue packages and for state governments to play a greater role in keeping the performing arts and screen sectors alive.

“We cannot and will not let today’s decision be the final call on this matter. Too many livelihoods and the fate of our industries are at stake.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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