Nearly one in ten coronavirus cases detected in New South Wales’ ongoing outbreak caught the virus at work, the state health department has confirmed, as unions and the federal opposition call for bolstered support payments to help at-risk workers stay at home.
Citing NSW Health data, The Sydney Morning Herald reports 123 of the community cases detected since mid-June caught the virus at their place of employment.
Of those cases, around 30% went on to transmit the virus to others outside of their immediate household.
Some 1,418 new cases have been counted in the state since June 16, when the first case in the Bondi cluster was registered by health authorities.
Those figures arrive three weeks into the Greater Sydney region’s lockdown restrictions, which only allow impacted residents to leave the home for necessary supplies, medical care, exercise, and essential work which cannot be conducted at home.
The state’s initial definition of essential work and its avoidance of clear-cut restrictions stood in contrast to states like Victoria, which shuttered non-essential retail venues as part of its fifth lockdown.
It was only on Saturday that Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed that “non-critical” workplaces in the Greater Sydney region will need to close their doors for the duration of the lockdown, which is projected to last until July 30, at the earliest.
Residents of the Fairfield, Liverpool and Canterbury-Bankstown local government areas are also be banned from leaving those regions to work, unless they are essential health or emergency workers.
Heightened focus on government support payments
The latest spate of business closures has intensified criticism of the joint $5.1 billion funding package designed to support businesses and workers through the latest stretch of lockdown restrictions.
Unions and social service advocates fear the funding is too little and too tightly focused to support vulnerable workers, who may be forced to choose between staying at home without pay or skirting restrictions during a period of high community transmission.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has repeatedly called for the federal government to instead reinstate the JobKeeper payment system, the $90 billion payroll subsidy which kept employees linked to their employers through widespread industry shutdowns.
JobKeeper itself faced condemnation for its eligibility criteria, which excluded new casual employees, thousands of university staff, and freelancers.
But unlike the now-defunct program, the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency payments only apply from the second week of a Commonwealth-declared lockdown, and omits anyone who already receives a government payment like JobSeeker or Youth Allowance.
“Is it just pride and stubbornness that stops the Morrison Govt reviving JobKeeper?,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil tweeted Wednesday morning.
Growing queues outside NSW Centrelink offices exist “because [Prime Minister Scott Morrison] refuses to reinstate JobKeeper,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus added.
McManus has also criticised the state government business grant system, which requires firms not to reduce their head count, but has no mechanism ensuring employers pass the funds to their employees.
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has called for existing government payment recipients to become eligible for the COVID-19 emergency payment.
“This is a public health issue,” ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said Sunday. “People can’t stay home in lockdown if they lose their home because they cannot afford it.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has also called for bolstered support to keep employees linked to their employers, while Greens senator Rachel Siewert told the Australian Financial Review the federal government is “blatantly ignoring” welfare recipients locked out of the emergency payment system.
The federal government has repeatedly signaled it has no plans to revive JobKeeper, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisting it was a targeted program which is no longer fit for purpose.