Australia ends pandemic wage subsidy despite job loss warnings
Published: Mar 28, 2021 07:38 PM
Australia on Sunday ended a pandemic wage subsidy scheme despite official warnings that up to 150,000 people could lose their jobs as a result.

 Heavy flooding is seen in McGraths Hill on March 22, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. Photo: VCG

Heavy flooding is seen in McGraths Hill on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. Photo: VCG

The so-called JobKeeper scheme, which initially saw A$1,500 ($1,150) a fortnight paid to staff via their employers, was announced in March 2020 after Australia imposed a nationwide shutdown that left thousands queuing outside unemployment offices.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the program had been an "economic lifeline" that has achieved the aim "of saving lives and saving livelihoods" over the past year. He told reporters in Melbourne there was "no doubt that there will be some businesses that will continue to do it tough" but the subsidies were always designed to be "temporary."

Australia's unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in February - down from 7.5 percent in July 2020 - but the Treasury estimates between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the change. Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O'Neil said many more workers were likely to see their hours and pay slashed.

"1.1 million workers face an uncertain future without the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which has prevented catastrophic job losses during the pandemic and is now being ripped away," she said.

"Cutting off JobKeeper while so many workers are still reliant on it is both cruel and counter-productive to our economic recovery."

At the height of the crisis, the scheme was supporting almost 4 million jobs.

Officials twice extended the program over the past 12 months, albeit at lower rates as the spread of COVID-19 was brought under control.