Following an emergency meeting of its members, attended by the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, COSBOA has issued a list of suggestions aimed to alleviate the serious social and economic issues that the body predicts will be born out of Victoria’s decision to extend the current lockdown arrangements past 13 September 2020.
“All small-business people want the community and workplaces to be safe and the COVID cases to drop and indeed disappear. This roadmap, however, is economically and socially reckless and will decrease cases but at what other human cost?” CEO Peter Strong said following the meeting.
“COSBOA is concerned that small-business individuals and families, as well as their employees, now face even more hardship and long-term health and economic impacts that could have been avoided by engaging in industry consultation.”
Headlining COSBOA’s list is the need for Premier Andrews to consult with business and come up with a new plan to decrease COVID cases, while at the same time minimising the damage to jobs, small-business owners and their employees.
Mr Strong explained that the Victorian government has an “absolute obligation” to establish an SME Recovery Panel, to engage with small-business representatives to urgently design and implement strategies that minimise the level of economic and business destruction that will inevitably be caused by the decision to extend the COVID-19 lockdown arrangements.
This panel would ideally consider the following measures as part of its first actions:
- Lifting its SME cash grants from $5,000 to $15,000 and extending the eligibility of these loans to sole traders;
- Paying the commercial rents of SMEs who are affected by the lockdowns;
- Providing grants for SMEs who have no option but to wind up their operations;
- Establishing a fund for the payout of entitlements to SME employees that can be accessed by employees where their SME employer is unable to pay the same;
- Paying a Victorian JobKeeper supplement that ensures that stage 2 JobKeeper participants (1 October to 31 December 2020) in Victoria receive the same $1,500 fortnightly payment that they received during the stage 1 JobKeeper program.
“We know that some business people will have no choice but to close down their businesses. It’s just not realistic or feasible to try and stay in operation. There are, however, many costs associated with closing down, from ongoing leases to paying the necessary entitlements to employees and negotiating the finalisation of various business contracts,” Mr Strong said.
“The Victorian government should take responsibility for this situation and provide financial assistance at least for rent to the affected people.”
Mr Strong concluded: “This isn’t only a dire health crisis; it’s an economic crisis and a social crisis. We need to work together to manage all three aspects of the crisis as well as the recovery phase.
“We can work together to be COVIDSafe and get through this.”
Also addressing the issue, the ASBFEO Kate Carnell called on the Victorian government to pay for all break-lease termination fees – not just on the premises but also equipment so small business owners can walk away without further penalties.
“It is unreasonable to expect small businesses to continue to hang on and accumulate debt, given this ongoing forced closure is no fault of their own.
“This is a situation no small business could have planned for. The lockdown extension has forced small businesses into this dire predicament and now the government needs to do the right thing to support them to exit if they cannot afford to hang on."