JobKeeper jitters

Cafe’s will need more government support come September, says the small business ombudsman, but High Street Dispensary are hoping the worst is already over for them. Photo by Kelly Warden.

THERE are nervous tingles amongst Fremantle’s small businesses as Australia reaches the JobKeeper payment cusp.

While some small business owners and employees are simply counting their blessings to have survived to now, many worry they’ll go under if prime minister Scott Morrison axes JobKeeper payments in September.

With Fremantle’s economy so heavily dependent on its cafe scene, Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell warns that 40 per cent of owners say they won’t last longer than six months without additional support. 

“JobKeeper has certainly been effective in keeping many of these businesses afloat, but some additional targeted support will likely be required,” Ms Carnell said.

High Street Dispensary Cafe owner and long time small-business woman Raquel Viney said times had been tough but she was confident she’d survive even without more help. 

She told the Herald she’d only accessed JobKeeper for a side business she owned, which helped keep the cafe afloat, but hoped returning Notre Dame students woul be enough stimulus. 

Thursday from a couple of students who’d just received their timetables for next semester, which was all listed as “online”.

Fremantle Chamber of Commerce CEO says while WA’s easing restrictions put it in a better position than the eastern states, it wasn’t all rosy. 

“We do have some concerns for out local economy come August and September,” Ms Quinlan said, adding the chamber would “advocate for appropriate support from all levels on government” should it become necessary.

Homeschoolers helped prop up New Edition.

Other stores along Freo’s High Street said it was the support of locals who kept them going.

“We were a bit worried to begin with,” says New Edition bookshop employees Kat and Hannah, who weren’t getting JobKeeper and watched sales dwindling until people in lockdown started looking for some diversion. 

“People were homeschooling, so they were buying heaps of picture books,” said Kat. 

Record Finder owner Mark Lahogue says his business “picked up in the last two months”  as people rediscovered their love of vinyl during the lockdown.

The team at Three Stories surf shop were on JobKeeper, which helped them get over the initial slump in trade, which was followed by a resurgence, which manager Sophie believes was driven by people “getting more into their hobbies”. 

She says locals put a huge dent in the surf stores supply of boards and wetsuits. 

For some, the JobKeeper journey hasn’t been so breezy. 

Common Ground worker Monika told the Herald she’d never been on Centrelink before Covid happened, and is “uncertain” about what will happen if JobKeeper runs out. 

Initially she had to go on JobSeeker when her job in events disappeared due to Covid event restrictions, then onto JobKeeper when she scored work at Common Ground. 

People sick of being stuck indoors flocked to buy a surfboard when Perth’s beaches reopened (and storms whipped up some barrels), helping Three Stories through the tough times. Photo by Kelly Warden.

Monika explains she’s only working temporarily at Common Ground while the owner is away.

“If events come back, I’ll be fine. If not, I’ll have to go back onto JobSeeker,” which she says was a “very stressful” ordeal. 

The issue also came up federal Parliament on Thursday, with a senate committee looking at the Morrison government’s response to Covid-19 hearing from advocacy groups who fear losing JobKeeper will affect both their clients’ lives and their own ability to keep staff.

“We are nervous about the proposed timing of the removal of the JobKeeper, Jobseeker and coronavirus supplements, particularly given the strong correlation between poverty, unemployment, underemployment and food insecurity,” Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey told the committee.

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations CEO Ross Joyce said extending JobKeeper would be vital.

“I think one of the things everybody talks about is the September cliff, and we see that coming for Jobseeker and JobKeeper,” Mr Joyce said. 

“Looking at that with our members and across the sector, that’s going to be a pretty dire circumstance if everything just does stop, because it’s not going back to normal and it’s going to be some time before anything is like normal again.”

by KELLY WARDEN

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