Coronavirus: Banks urged to widen business loan deferrals

Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia chief executive Peter Strong.
Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia chief executive Peter Strong

The hospitality sector has urged major banks to help save jobs by letting more businesses defer loan repayments during the corona­virus pandemic.

Australian Hotels Association chief executive Stephen Ferguson said further action by the banks to assist businesses was vital if employers were to be able to revive their operations once the pandemic was over and the economy began to recover.

He said the relief package by the Australian Banking Association that included a deferral of principal and interest repayments on loans for six months needed to be broadened and applied to business customers carrying more than $3m in debt. “We need the banks to go higher. We need the commitment they will work with our larger members to allow them to come out the other side.”

Of the 250,000 people employed across the hotel sector, 50,000 were employed full-time while the rest were either engaged part-time or as casuals. Accommodation hotels, which have been able to keep operating, employ 10,000 full-time workers and 30,000 part-time or casual employees.

Mr Ferguson said accommo­dation hotels were in demand from people wishing to self-isolate because of the coronavirus.

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, said he believed a further 500,000 people would lose jobs over coming months as employers felt the economic fallout from the pandemic. He pleaded with the public to abide by stage-one restrictions, saying more businesses would be required to shut down unless the community co-operated. “We are going to end up in a general lockdown if people don’t follow the instructions they are given,” he said.

“This is war. When the blitz was on, you had to follow instructions or you would end up in the clink.”

Data compiled by the United Workers Union showed 1674 jobs and 8640 shifts had been reported lost by hospitality workers as at 5pm on Monday.

ACTU president Michele O’Neil has called for the proposed doubling of welfare payments from April 27 to be made available immediately. She said the timetable for the $550-a-fortnight increase in the JobSeeker payment was “way too slow” and Australia should follow Britain and subsidise 80 per cent of wages to keep workers in jobs.

Unions and employers were meeting late on Monday to try to reach agreement on how to inject more flexibility into awards to deal with the jobs crisis. With massive numbers of employees working from home, employers and unions are likely to make a joint application to the Fair Work Commission seeking more flexibility around timekeeping and attendance obligations.

Resource employers are also seeking flexibility around the movement of fly in, fly out workers as they face double quarantine periods because of border closures imposed by some states.

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