The Federal Government’s decision to rule out extending the $1,500 a fortnight JobKeeper wage subsidy to casual workers who had been employed for less than a year will penalise many thousands of cinema industry employees and screen sector freelancers.
In addition, the free-to-air networks, Foxtel and the larger production companies are highly unlikely to qualify for the assistance because their revenues had not fallen by more than 30 per cent for firms with annual revenues under $1 billion and 50 per cent for those which clock more than $1 billion.
Attorney-General Christian Porter told Sunrise today the 1.1 million workers who have been employed for less than a year or rely on sporadic work will not have access to the subsidy.
“You have to have some kind of eligibility definitions, even in a package this enormous,” he said, adding that these workers can claim the $1,100 fortnightly JobSeeker payment.
While screen industry executives are waiting to see the detail of the legislation to be introduced into parliament on Wednesday, Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner tells IF: “Our workforce is unique in that it can move from full employment to casual, to contracting between different projects.
“So this won’t help solve the key issues for the creative industries where the form of worker engagement changes, where income is lumpy and a 30 per cent downturn still needs to be demonstrated by a current employer to be eligible.”
SPA has asked the government to waive the 30 per cent rule and for industries which do research and development including creative development.
Fremantle has not applied for the JobKeeper subsidy because it does not believe it qualifies. “Unless the rules have changed across the weekend, a company has to demonstrate a reduction of 30 per cent of revenue, undefined by time period,” Fremantle CEO Chris Oliver-Taylor tells IF.
“Due to the very nature of our business, growth is not smooth or steady, it is “lumpy.” Some years you have more shows, some less. For us, we had more shows in production this year than last, hence overall the company does not qualify.
“We are lobbying government and agencies to ensure they understand specific examples – for us it is about helping and supporting our freelance community.”
A Network 10 spokesperson said: “We are working through Network 10’s eligibility and how it would apply.”
National Association of Cinema Operators executive director Michael Hawkins is worried that his members face significant cash flow challenges in paying staff before reimbursement on May 1.
“There is evidence that some employers will actually be required to pay more per week than they would normally be required to do so, as many casuals did not earn $750 per week,” Hawkins tells IF.
“I am aware that similar concerns have been raised by many others, including the Opposition and unions, and I await the text of the legislation once passed.
“We also have grave concerns about the position of the industry in relation to commitments to leases, outgoings and utilities and have made substantial submissions to the Prime Minister.”
Echoing Hawkins’ misgivings, Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell points to anomalies which could mean 16-year-olds, who normally did just one shift a week at his cinemas in the past year, get $19,500 over the six months of the JobKeeper program.
Conversely, permanent employees out of his 88 eligible staff who have families and mortgages may incur a 50 per cent pay cut. He estimates his company would have to fork out at least $330,000 before being reimbursed.
“It’s great to include more people, but how does it work in practice and how does the cashflow actually work for small business that can’t afford to back-fund it?” he says.
Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace had to stand down 40 casuals when cinemas closed. GM Alex Temesvari welcomed the JobKeeper subsidy as going a “long way to being able to keep the bulk of our long term casual staff getting paid over the temporary closure period.”
He added: “We never actually stood down any of our full-time management team as we’re confident that we will be back stronger than ever in the coming months. We’re fortunately in a strong enough position to be able to weather this closure better than most other small businesses would be.”
Cinema Nova applied for the subsidy on the day it as announced. “We have not let any of our 60 staff go and aren’t planning to,” says CEO Kristian Connelly.