SYDNEY – About 1.5 million Victorians, representing nearly half of the private sector workforce of the Australian state, will receive wage subsidies following the COVID-19 outbreak in the capital city of Melbourne, the country’s treasurer announced on Friday.
Melbourne, which is the second most populated city in the country with nearly 5 million residents, began a six-week lockdown on Thursday, which involved the closure of non-essential businesses, while strict measures are in place for rest of Victoria to try to reduce local transmissions.
Amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in the state, which is derailing Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery plans, the federal government pledged some AU$15.6 billion ($11.24 billion) to its flagship JobKeeper program, under which it grants wage subsidies to companies to enable them to keep paying their workers.
The Australian government will allocate 80 percent of this sum to businesses in Victoria and will also make changes to eligibility for JobKeeper payments.
“We believe that about 530,000 extra Victorian employees will now join the JobKeeper program over the September quarter. That means 1.5 million Victorians employees will be using JobKeeper. That’s nearly half of the private sector workforce across the whole state,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told local broadcaster ABC.
On July 21, the government announced that it would extend wage subsidies to some 3.5 million workers for another six months until March next year.
The payment, which was due to expire at the end in September, will be reduced on Sept. 28 from the current AU$1,500 per worker per fortnight to a maximum of AU$1,200 – which is equivalent to 80 percent of the minimum wage – and to AU$1,000 on Jan. 3 for full-time workers. Part-time workers will be paid a smaller amount.
The total cost of the JobKeeper program exceeds AU$100 billion, which is a third of the amount allocated by the government for fiscal stimulus, aid and other measures implemented on account of the COVID-19 epidemic.
On Friday, Victoria confirmed 450 new cases and 11 deaths, taking the total infections to about 13,990 in the state, more than half of the approximately 20,000 cases recorded in Australia to date.