Most independent production companies and thousands of freelancers in the screen industry face financial hardship as they don’t qualify for the Federal Government’s $1,500 a fortnight JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Screen Producers Australia fears almost all its members will not be eligible because their revenues are irregular and they would not meet the threshold of a drop in turnover of more than 30 per cent for at least a month compared to a year ago.

SPA has asked the government to waive the 30 per cent rule for small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $50 million and for industries which do research and development including creative development.

“We must protect screen businesses and our screen workforce throughout this period if we are to have a viable industry to return to,” SPA CEO Matt Deaner tells IF.

The MEAA has been seeking urgent clarification about the eligibility of freelance performers and crew for the JobKeeper package.

“Our concern is that while the subsidy will be available to sole traders, this still leaves many freelancers working in screen uncovered by the scheme because of the unique nature of employment in the sector,” an MEAA spokesman tells IF.

“This is is a huge and complex package and it is possible that even when the intention is to protect all workers, some will fall through the cracks because of loopholes.

“We expect a response to our concerns from the government before Parliament considers the legislation next week.

“If the scheme does not cover all freelancers we will be seeking urgent agreement to amendments. Our members need this support and it would be an injustice to them if they were left out.”

SPA has told the government screen production businesses are – if assisted – well placed to resume production quickly and employ large numbers of employees once the COVID-19 crisis has eased.

But to do so, these companies need to retain skilled personnel, almost all of whom have been stood down.

The JobKeeper payments will be backdated to March 1 and the first payment will be received by employers in the first week of May.

A spokesperson for the Treasury tells IF that eligibility for freelance performers and crew will depend on the nature of their employment relationship.

An employee engaged on a fixed term contract as of March 1 and who continues to be engaged is eligible to receive the payment from their employer for up to six months.

If the employee’s contract ends and is not renewed, the payment ceases. Alternatively, independent contractors may be eligible to receive the payment themselves for up to six months if they are self-employed.

Casual employees who have been with an employer for less than 12 months will be eligible providing they meet the income test.

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said yesterday the JobKeeper scheme will “support many arts organisations to keep their people on the books while normal operations are suspended – ready to bounce back quickly when theatres, live music venues, museums and cultural institutions reopen their doors.”

Fletcher added: “I have been in close contact with cultural and creative sector leaders and they have shared with me the challenges faced by many across the sector.”

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