The following article on SBS recently discussed the varied approach to the coronavirus crisis for small business.
The article provides insight from key industry figures and business owners – Sean Edwards (Director – Cafe Culture International), Jarad Mea (Owner – Coffee on High Wauchope), Dr Jim Stanford (Centre for Future Work Economist) and Mohammad Al-Khafaji (FECCA CEO)
Division emerges over whether coronavirus lockdown would be the best approach to crisis
As Australia confronts a war on both economic and health fronts during the coronavirus pandemic, division has emerged over how to tackle the crisis.
Business owners are clinging to the economic lifeline offered by Australia’s gradual shutdown as some push for stronger lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has maintained social distancing restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 have been implemented on the nation’s top medical advice. But he has made no secret of his desire to “fight for every job” and not be “cavalier” about the economic toll of introducing a nation-wide shutdown.
Jarad Mea, who runs a cafe in Wauchope on the NSW mid north coast, is one of many small business owners now fighting for his livelihood.
“It is quite hard because it is such a head game … I suppose fear comes into it,” he told SBS News.
“Then it’s about taking control of that and putting your head above water.”
His cafe, Coffee on High, has been left running take-away only services – a move which has seen his income slashed.
The change was forced after the Federal Government banned cafes and restaurants from delivering table service to help stem the contagion’s spread.
The father of three said he is just trying to break even during the “challenging times”.
“As long as what’s coming in balances with what’s going out that’s what I’m after. I’m not even making a profit at all, I’m not paying myself,” he said.
“Everything is going back into the business that’s going through the doors.”
Those in favour of an immediate shutdown have argued more comprehensive restrictions would result in a shorter disruption and fewer deaths.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, California Governor Gavin Newsom and a number of medical experts have all broadly advocated for this approach. But Mr Morrison has argued he will not compromise his principle of fighting for the livelihoods of workers without a “compelling” health reason to implement such measures.
The nation’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy and the prime minister have also advised Australians to work from home where they can – but are mindful any further measures introduced could last at least six months.
Debate over the push for stronger lockdown measures recently erupted on social media after prominent novelist Jane Carro tweeted: “for the love of god – declare a lockdown!”
Many were in favour of the commentator’s push for greater restrictions – but others accused her of failing to understand their need to “keep working as long as they can”.
Centre for Future Work Economist Dr Jim Stanford told SBS News an estimated 30 per cent of workers can feasibly work from home – but that still leaves some 70 per cent who can’t.
“There is a huge difference in terms of different jobs and occupations in terms of how able you would be able to be to do your work from home,” he said.
“The reality is most Australians would have jobs that you wouldn’t do from home.”
He said the choice for these workers has become a “stark” one as many businesses grapple to figure out how they can keep their doors open amid increasing restrictions.
“Many businesses are trying to figure out what if anything they can keep producing during this shutdown period we are entering,” he said.
“But there is no doubt medical advice has to be predominant and we cannot have a situation where we are somehow trading off the economy against the well being of the citizen.”
The Cafe Owners and Baristas Association and Cafe Culture’s Sean Edwards told SBS News many owners believed running a “skeleton business” is better than “having no business at all”.
“The Government has been pretty clever with how they’ve done this – they haven’t just pulled the rug out from underneath cafe owners,” he said.
“They’ve let them have a little bit of opportunity to still make revenue.”
The contagion’s economic toll has already forced tens of thousands into queues outside Centrelink offices around the country to access a series of safety net packages announced by the government.
The latest involves $130 billion over six months to subsidise the wages of up to six million Australians through a $1,500 fortnightly flat payments given to employers.
This would go to those who have lost 30 per cent or more of their revenue to keep these workers on the books during the crisis.
FECCA CEO Mohammad Al-Khafaji told SBS News migrant communities make up almost one-third of all small business owners with many now fighting to keep their doors open.
“Most migrants in small business are family owned businesses and they can’t afford to stay home and work from home,” he said.
Mr Al-Khafaji said business owners from migrant communities were at risk of suffering the most from the restrictions imposed as they weigh their future.
He is concerned that rapidly changing advice and support measures are leaving many business owners confused about what support is available.
“It is very confusing as it is and if you add the language barrier on top, it almost makes it impossible for people to navigate this system,” he said.