A coalition of Australia’s peak industry groups representing the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors says “there is almost no government support” for businesses struck by Omicron, and has called for action in six areas to prevent operators from collapsing and to help businesses survive Omicron.
Furthermore, all of the three groups are also urging for rent relief, cash grants and simpler reporting requirements for businesses who have employees who have tested positive for covid-19.
Close to 70 percent of Australian Retailers Association (ARA) members have staff in isolation, whilst a third have limited trading hours in some locations and one in five were forced to close down due to staff shortages.
“This year has seen business enter uncharted waters, with Omicron impacting business more than any other time in the pandemic with almost no government support. These challenges are going to be with us for some time and targeted support is desperately needed from government so small businesses can survive,” says Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra.
Wes Lambert the CEO of Restaurant and Catering Australia echoed the concerns raised by Mr. Zahra.
“For many in the hospitality sector, the current situation with Omicron has left them worse off when compared to the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. Between staff having to isolate with COVID-19, mass cancellations from a fearful public and the ongoing staff shortage, who can blame them?” says Wes Lambert the CEO of Restaurant and Catering Australia.
Reduced domestic travel has also had a significantly negative impact on the tourism sector, which is still reeling from missing five school holiday periods in a row due to restrictions, resulting in an estimated loss of $21 billion in related visitor spend.
Here are the six steps proposed by the industry groups to help assist hospitality and tourism businesses with recovering from the omicron wave.
Help Businesses Survive Omicron:
Give Businesses Access to Rapid Antigen Tests
“Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are a critical resource as we adjust to living with Covid and they should be easily accessible and affordable for businesses to assist with the testing of their staff. We call on the Federal Government to underwrite the cost of RATs so businesses are not lumped with additional costs on top of the trading impacts they’re currently suffering,” outlined the report.
Expand Close Contact Isolation Exemptions
The report also highlights the concerns regarding the tens of thousands of people who have been forced into isolation each day and how this has resulted in huge staff shortages across the country.
Whilst a range of industries have been included in the list of workers who are exempt from close contact isolation requirements, this needs to cascade out to workers in retail, hospitality and tourism, allowing these businesses to continue serving customers while keeping everyone safe,” says the report.
Giving Businesses Access to More Skill Staff
The report went onto praise the Australian Government for its recent decision to try and entice more international students and working holiday makers into the country via visa rebates.
International students and working holiday makers play a valuable role in filling vacant jobs that are for lower and medium skilled positions levels. However, the industry bodies now want the government to go one step further and to prioritise these workers to fill the remaining labour shortages in our industries which are predominantly highly skilled.
“At all times we support the priority of providing jobs to Australians and training Australians where they exist. However, the retail, hospitality and tourism industries were already dealing with skills shortages before the Omicron wave. Our sectors require prioritization with more specialized workers on the skilled migrant workers list,” outlined the report.
Help Businesses Survive Omicron:
Managing to pay rent has been a major problem for many businesses during the covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, leasing codes of conduct have now expired in the majority of Australia’s jurisdictions thus leaving small businesses in many cases vulnerable to significant cashflow challenges in the first quarter of this year.
“We thank the NSW and Victorian governments for extending rent negotiation rights for small business until mid-March. However, rent relief is only available to businesses with turnover of up to $5 million (in NSW) and $10 million (in Victoria). We’re calling for the threshold to be lifted to $50 million – as it was previously and for similar supports to be reinstated or introduced across the other states and territories,” outlined the report.
Targeted Cash Grants
“Targeted cash grants, including the JobSaver program, were a lifesaver for businesses and should be reinstated. It’s clear that the impacts of Omicron are widespread and ongoing and that targeted and temporary cash grants are needed to keep small businesses most affected alive until they come out the other side of this current crisis,” says the report.
Reducing Red Tape
“The last thing businesses need to be focused on right now is regulation and red tape. Feedback is that employer reporting requirements for positive cases are onerous, overwhelming teams and causing resources to be diverted to administration which is a roadblock to other safety and support issues. We’re pleased to see a reduction in some of the duplicate reporting requirements within Victoria. We call on the other states and territories to do the same,” said the industry bodies report.