The unemployed, older Australians and temporary migrants could be forced to stack supermarket shelves to help alleviate critical supply shortages.
Acting Small Business Minister Anne Ruston held crisis talks with industry leaders on Tuesday night as thousands of workers self isolate with Covid, causing a shortage of consumer goods.
Job vacancies are now are record highs with 396,100 positions available in the three months to November, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed on Wednesday.
During the past year, advertised employment numbers have surged by 56.1 per cent or by 142,400, making it even harder for employers to recruit staff.
Further meetings are being held with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday ahead of a national cabinet meeting on Thursday.
The unemployed, older Australians and temporary migrants could be forced to stack supermarket shelves to help alleviate critical supply shortages (pictured is a Centrelink queue in Sydney early on in the pandemic)
‘A very high number of the workforce are currently furloughed either because they have COVID, are caring for someone with COVID or are a close contact,’ Senator Ruston told Sky News on Wednesday.
‘(We are) working through ways to make sure our essential services, currently food and grocery are our number one priority … keep moving.’
Senator Ruston, who is also the Social Services Minister in charge of Centrelink, said the government was working towards ‘unshackling’ employment opportunities for cohorts like temporary visa holders and those on JobSeeker unemployment benefits.
‘Anybody who is currently on unemployment benefits who is able to work, we would be really keen for them to undertake some really active investigations about how they could help out with these workforce shortages,’ she said.
‘Many older Australians, I am sure, will be happy to do a few extra hours to help out at the moment.’
Workers in critical industries who test negative to Covid will no longer have to self isolate if they are a close contact with a positive case they live with.
Mr Morrison this week said that would mean supermarket workers could stack shelves at night, provided they weren’t interacting with customers.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says Australians were already rolling up their sleeves to help cover shortages but they were being undermined by the government.
Job vacancies are now are record highs with 396,100 positions available in the three months to November, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed on Wednesday (pictured are empty shelves at a Woolworths in Sydney’s north-west at Kellyville)
Welfare benefits in Australia
JOBSEEKER (SINGLES): $629.50 a fortnight or $314.75 a week
JOBSEEKER (SINGLE PARENTS): $676.80 a fortnight or $338.40 a week
YOUTH ALLOWANCE: $537.40 a fortnight or $268.70 a week since January 1
Mr Albanese said tracing, testing, quarantine and vaccination represented the ‘grand slam’ of the Morrison government’s failures, adding to the staff shortages as cases skyrocket.
He noted former Ashfield mayor and nurse Lucille McKenna had come out of retirement to help during the crisis.
‘That is the sort of effort we have seen from ordinary Australians right around the country,’ he said.
‘Working people have made incredible sacrifices and stepped up. They did their part of the bargain, the federal government has not done its part.’
Businesses also discussed the need for national consistency and clarity around isolation and testing requirements with the acting minister.
This included ensuring adequate and consistent supplies of rapid antigen tests are delivered where they’re needed.
The roundtable addressing supply chain shortages included representatives from food and retail associations, transport and distribution associations, the National Farmers Federation, the Pharmacy Guild, the small business chamber and the Regional Airline Association.
Mr Morrison is considering which businesses should be defined as essential services and covered by less stringent isolation requirements as the attorney-general, Safe Work Australia, the ACTU and other employment groups meet on Wednesday.
The health and home affairs departments are meeting with the health and transport sectors, respectively, as well, while work health and safety ministers are working on whether businesses in non-critical industries should stop requiring workers to produce negative rapid antigen tests as they recover.
Single Australians without work are eligible for a $629.50 a fortnight in JobSeeker benefits.
This rises to $676.80 a fortnight for single, unemployed parents.
By comparison, the minimum wage is $772.60 a week.