Workers at an idyllic tropical north Queensland island resort owned by one of Queensland’s richest families claim they have worked hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime while being stripped of penalty rates under a decade-old WorkChoices-era ‘zombie’ agreement.
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Unions are using the end of the jobkeeper payment to urge the government to lift the minimum wage, saying low-income earners will spend the money and help stimulate economic recovery.
Calling the end of the government wage subsidy a “grim” day for workers, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said she was concerned about the effect of withdrawing the pandemic support measure, with up to 150,000 people expected to lose their employment as a result.
“Until the pandemic is past there is still a need to support businesses that have been affected through no fault of their own,” McManus told the ABC.
“The pandemic is still with us and will still be with us until the vaccine is rolled out in our country and around the world.”
She also urged the clawing back of the wage subsidy from employers who have profited from the scheme, saying it could be redirected to workers who lost their jobs.
“It is absolutely immoral that they have taken that money and pocketed it for bonuses or for profits,” McManus said.
“If they gave that money back, that money could be diverted to those companies, those workers, who will lose their jobs because jobkeeper has been withdrawn.”
McManus said a lift in the minimum wage of $26 a week from 1 July would also help recovery from the pandemic-induced economic downturn, calling it a “small amount” for employers to be able to afford.
“One thing we absolutely know is that people on the minimum wage, on the lowest wages, they spend every single cent that they earn, so it is a very effective way of ensuring that local businesses, small businesses, are getting customers through the door,” she said.
“The worst thing we can do in terms of a recovery is not have consumer confidence or consumer spending because that is what will keep small businesses alive, so if we’re going to have a V shape to recovery for jobs and for profits, we have got to have it for wages as well.”
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, called for the jobkeeper payment to remain in place, saying many businesses would be left without income as a result.
“If the logic of why these payments were in place is still there today, why would you just remove that support?” Albanese said.
“What we’d like to see is targeted support, so that where businesses were in circumstances, which justified … wage subsidies, to keep that relationship going between employers and workers, then that would be able to be continued.”
The treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the jobkeeper payment had achieved its objectives of “saving lives and saving livelihoods”, with 3.8 million Australians in a job at the height of the pandemic.
He said 2.8m people had “graduated” from the program, and now the government was focusing economic support in other forms, including the aviation and arts packages.
“There is no doubt that there are some businesses that will continue to do it tough once jobkeeper ends, but as a program, it was always a temporary one,” Frydenberg said.
He said the program needed to end as keeping it in place could impede worker mobility during an economic recovery, and pledged further support measures would be unveiled in next months’s budget.
“There are a lot of people and a lot of sectors across the economy and the regions that are continuing to do it tough and just as the Morrison government had their back at the start of this crisis, through this crisis, we will have their back right to the end of this crisis,” he said.
“There is a lot of support, money that is flowing out every day into the pockets of households and to the balance sheets of businesses to drive economic activity.”
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More than 8,000 people in Cairns are expected to lose their JobKeeper wage subsidy payments in coming days, in what is expected to be yet another major blow to Far North Queensland’s tourism industry.
The federal government’s welfare program ends on Sunday, despite calls for it to be extended.
The move marks the end of a wage subsidy that has buoyed businesses across the country during the coronavirus pandemic and put an estimated $1,000 in the pockets of about 1.54 million employees each fortnight.
Across Australia, some 500,000 businesses are bracing for the loss of the subsidy.
In Far North Queensland, the move is expected to leave thousands of recipients — many of them tourism workers — jobless.
With the drawcard of the Great Barrier Reef on Cairns’ doorstep, the region has typically attracted interstate and international tourists, contributing to what was once an industry worth $3.5 billion a year.
Cairns-based dive instructor Ty McCormack is a 20-year veteran of the industry and is among the thousands of JobKeeper casualties.
The professional diver has taken thousands of tourists to experience the depths of the Great Barrier Reef, but last week found himself out of a job, despite rave customer reviews on multiple websites.
“I got an initial phone call from one of my managers, and then a letter from the company, advising that redundancies were going to be implemented,” Mr McCormack said.
“A few days after that, some of us got the letters that we were being made redundant.
Mr McCormack worked for one of Cairns’ biggest reef boat operators, which is usually frequented by international tourists.
Up until Saturday, he had been averaging a few days a week at work — his days off subsidised by the JobKeeper payment.
At the age of 59, he is not sure what the future holds for an industry he is deeply passionate about.
“JobKeeper was basically getting the bills paid — it was making sure that we had food on the table, fuel in the car, that sort of thing,” he said.
“It was a little bit of security. Now with JobKeeper being taken away and our jobs going with JobKeeper, no-one knows what the future holds.
“And there’s a lot of people in my situation in Cairns.”
Andrea Cameron used to have a fleet of vehicles that would take busloads of mainly international tourists on day trips around the region.
The owner of Kuranda Day Tours was averaging around 42 tours a week, employed five staff and turned over about $1 million a year.
But with the end of JobKeeper, she now employs just one tour guide and has listed her home at tropical Port Douglas for sale.
“We sold a couple of our buses and we have one still sitting in our yard that’s unregistered and uninsured.”
She said her business had also been hit hard by the reduced hours of other tourism ventures she relied on as part of her tour, including the rainforest cableway Skyrail and the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
“I really would have loved to have seen some targeted support continue for the tourism industry, especially in our region, which is so dependent on international borders and visitors,” she said.
“It is going to be scary.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said Easter bookings looked encouraging, with half-price flights due to start next month as part of a federal government tourism boost.
“We are hearing from our operators in Port Douglas that their average occupancy through Easter is 70-80 per cent,” he said.
“Cairns is running at about 60-70 per cent already pre-booked for Easter.”
Cairns Airport head of aviation Garry Porter said domestic arrival numbers had slowly returned to pre-COVID numbers.
“This month we are looking at 45,000 seats a week and in April we are jumping back to 65,000 to nearly 70,000 seats.”
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Homelessness services fear they will be forced to cut the hours they can take in people, including women fleeing domestic violence at night, if federal pay equality funding is not renewed.
Kate Timmins, chief executive of the B Miles Women’s Foundation in Sydney, which offers crisis accommodation and other services to 300 women a year, said her organisation would lose about $80,000 a year from its next funding contract.
“What that means, we can’t even begin to fathom,” Ms Timmins said. “It will mean cuts to staffing or reduction of operating hours because that is all that is left to be cut.”
Social and community workers won a pay rise of up to 45 per cent in 2012 to recognise that the sector’s primarily female workforce had historically been poorly paid because of their gender.
The increase was phased in annually until December 2020, accompanied by higher federal government funding to service providers to cover the cost, which the Morrison government has maintained. However, homelessness services, which are funded separately in partnership with the states, are not included from 2021-22.
Both the NSW and Victorian governments, which are directly responsible for homelessness services through organisations including B Miles, have lobbied for federal funding to continue at the higher amount.
“Withdrawing base funding will remove more than $20 million [annually] for service providers, which will cost more than 100 jobs and remove vital support for around 6700 households at risk of homelessness,” Andrews government Housing Minister Richard Wynne said.
In 2020-21, the federal government contributed an estimated $56.5 million to cover the higher wages as part of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which is distributed by the states. Estimates from the Australian Services Union and Homelessness Australia suggest it equates to 565 jobs.
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The Morrison government has sensationally dumped the vast majority of its own industrial relations reforms including wage theft penalties.
The coalition could only salvage increased rights for casual workers to ask for permanent jobs and a definition of that work type from its original bill.
Provisions criminalising wage theft, changes to enterprise bargaining, award simplification and extended long-term pay agreements for major projects were thrown out.
The wide-ranging omnibus bill was drafted after months of negotiations between unions, business groups and the government.
After it became clear Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff – who held the deciding vote – would back only the casuals and wage theft provisions, the government gutted the package.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed Labor for leading opposition to the bill despite his government failing to win crossbench support for the measures.
“There are many in the Senate and the Labor Party in particular who don’t share my passion for creating jobs,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
“I am a practical person, too. That means if this Senate is saying they don’t wish to support those measures, then we will have to consider that in terms of how we go forward because I will send them other things to approve.”
Senator Griff said he was gobsmacked with the government’s decision to scrap wage theft penalties.
“Shame on you all for trashing such an important amendment,” he told parliament.
Wage theft penalties were supported by all five crossbench senators in a rare consensus on the controversial reforms.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the government was walking away from nine months of negotiations.
“This is shameful and vindictive reaction to not getting widespread support for other changes that would reduce workers’ rights,” she said.
where they have entrenched casual work, stripping casuals of their rights and overturning the wins working ppl have had. So whilst this is a big victory on many fronts, that attack on casual workers will hang around the neck of the Morrison Govt until the election.
The government forced the heavily amended bill through the upper house on Thursday, the last Senate sitting until mid-May.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter was on leave for the crucial week of negotiation after emphatically denying historical rape allegations.
His temporary replacement Michaelia Cash said the watered down bill would provide certainty for small business and casual workers.
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong said the government was too distracted by other problems to negotiate the passage of its reforms.
“This is a government in crisis,” she told the chamber.
One Nation supported the government’s package after striking a deal for small changes to rules around converting to casual employment.
Independents Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick had proposed dumping all of the bill except for the wage theft penalties.
Opposition frontbencher Katy Gallagher described the government’s approach as a complete shemozzle.
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It comes after a court ruling on driver status and could have consequences across the gig economy.
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Party plays down issue, says union leaders are conveying intent in right perspective
A stay on hike in daily wages of some 7.5 lakh tea plantation workers has given the Opposition alliances a stick to beat the ruling BJP with in poll-bound Assam.
Candidates of the Congress-led Mahajot, or grand alliance, and the regional front headed by the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), have begun campaigning against the BJP’s “betrayal of trust” of tea workers.
The “tea tribes” and “ex-tea tribes [former plantation workers]”, brought by British planters from central India almost 200 years ago, comprise about 20% of Assam’s 3.3 crore people. They are a deciding factor in 45 of the State’s 126 Assembly seats, and a majority of such seats are among the 86 going to the polls in the first two phases.
“The interim hike in wage by ₹50 ahead of the polls followed by a court stay was a drama planned to hoodwink the tea workers. The BJP government knew this would happen as the tea companies were not consulted. We are making this an issue and telling the tea workers to be wary of who they vote for,” Dhiraj Gowala, president of Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA), said.
Hearing a petition by the Indian Tea Association and 17 tea companies that own about 90% of 803 estates in Assam, the Gauhati High Court on March 8 upheld the argument that the wage hike was “illegal” as no committee or sub-committee had been formed, as required under relevant sections of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
The ATTSA has influence across tea estates in northern and north-eastern Assam, where the Mahajot has allotted the Behali constituency to the CPI (Marxist-Leninist).
Party candidate Bibek Das said the State Labour Commissioner had in 2018 recommended ₹351 as the daily wage of tea workers. “This government ignored the recommendation and made a big noise about increasing the wage by ₹50 and this too is being denied. The workers have been taken for a ride,” he said.
Pawan Singh Ghatowar, former Congress MP and leader of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangh, held the Sarbananda Sonowal government responsible for the “wage hike gimmick”. The Congress, he said, was the only party sensitive to the issues of the plantation workers and would strive to give them their due.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had in February promised ₹365 as the minimum daily wage of plantation workers. “We know the tea estates may not be able to pay that much. We will bear a part of the fiscal burden if we form the government,” said State party president Ripun Bora, contesting the Gohpur seat, which has several estates.
The AJP, which claims to have weaned away 20% of tea workers from the BJP, has been “exposing the government’s lies” too.
“We are telling people not to buy the wage hike that was never intended to be because of the way it was pushed through without involving the stakeholders. We are educating tea workers on the practical problems and how they can be resolved equitably,” party general secretary Jagadish Bhuyan said.
The BJP played down the legal hurdle.
“Our voters across the tea belts know the BJP means business and that we will form the government again to sort out the niggles. Many of the tea union leaders are our candidates, and they are conveying our intent in the right perspective,” State party president Ranjeet Kumar Dass told The Hindu on Thursday.
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Sen. Tom Cotton introduced a bill last month that would do something Republicans have been resisting for years — raise the minimum wage.
Cotton, R-Ark., was joined by Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio in introducing the bill. It would eventually raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour, while requiring all businesses to check the immigration status of their employees.
The minimum wage would increase to $8 per hour immediately upon the enactment of the bill and slowly increase to $10 per hour three years after the bill is signed. The minimum wage would be indexed to inflation every other year after that.
Increases would also be delayed until after the pandemic is over, and the wage increase would be slower for small businesses.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is seen in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) (Getty Images)
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Meanwhile, all employers would be required to use the federal E-verify system, which allows them to check whether a person they are planning to hire is in the United States legally. The fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants would be increased significantly.
Cotton discussed his Big Idea during an interview with Fox News at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Why do you think it makes sense to pair a minimum wage increase with mandating E-verify?
Well, minimum wage laws and E-Verify are not just a horse trade between Republican and Democratic priorities. They’re tightly connected.
So the minimum wage will give workers a raise — that the minimum wage hasn’t changed for 12 years now — a little bit more than what it would have if it had been adjusted for inflation each of those years.
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But obviously, when you raise the minimum wage, that gives unscrupulous employers more incentive to hire illegal aliens. And we want to make sure that those wage gains are going to American workers. And the effect of it will be to create rising wages through tight labor markets because American employers will have to hire American workers first.
Striking McDonalds workers demanding a $15 minimum wage demonstrate in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S., June 14, 2019.A bill from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., would increase the minimum wage to $10 and strengthen federal E-verify. REUTERS/Mike Segar – RC1753F868A0
Aren’t you concerned that this would hurt small businesses that Republicans have said would be harmed by a minimum wage increase?
Well, we’re doing everything we can to mitigate that challenge.
So first, our minimum wage bill would not increase wages until the pandemic ends — until President Biden rescinds the public health declaration that President Trump issued last year.
Second, we would have a longer phase-in time for small businesses. So for big businesses, it would phase in over four years. For small businesses that would phase in over six years.
A few other wrinkles — a lot of small businesses or restaurants or bars. We retain the tipped wage, which is lower the minimum, so waiters and waitresses and bartenders can make more than the minimum wage.
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And we double the length of the summer teenage exception. So currently, you can employ teenagers at a wage below the federal minimum wage for 90 days. We would extend that to 180 days to help teenagers who are often working at small businesses get their foot on the economic ladder and be able to work their way up in the workplace.
This seems like it’s part of the GOP’s move to be a more populist party. Why do you think the GOP needs to move in that direction?
Well, one thing that President Trump has done over the last five years is kind of reset the view of a lot of Republican politicians and help them understand the views of Republican voters.
You know, when he first said that we should put America first, it gave a lot of Republican politicians in Washington the vapors.
But for most Americans, certainly most Republicans, it’s just common sense that America should come first and that American workers should come first. That’s been my view on immigration since I got the Congress — really before I was ever in the Congress — is that our immigration policy should put the interest of America’s workers and America’s communities first.
Fox Nation was a sponsor of CPAC.
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Top industry bodies have lined up to welcome the federal government’s decision to expand its wage subsidy scheme for apprentice and trainee hires.
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Aspiring apprentices will continue to get half their wages paid under the wage subsidy scheme, as JobKeeper wraps up later this month. Matthew Doran reports.
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