Matt Coughlan and Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)
Small businesses will receive government-funded wage subsidies to keep apprentices at work as part of Australia’s coronavirus response.
As well, media reports suggest pensioners and welfare recipients will get cash payments of around $500.
Under the plan unveiled on Wednesday night, the government will offer small businesses up to $7000 each quarter for every apprentice in wage assistance, to retain existing apprentices and trainees.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wanted to help small businesses bounce back strongly once the virus abates.
“We don’t want them to have to let their apprentices go,” Mr Morrison told Sky News on Wednesday.
“We think this is a very helpful measure.”
The subsidies are expected to reach around 117,000 apprentices and are worth about $1.3 billion.
Small businesses will be able to re-employ apprentices and trainees who lose positions because of any coronavirus downturn.
“We’ve got the budget back in balance, we’ve worked hard to achieve that, we can now put that to work for the Australian people,” Mr Morrison said.
Touching on possible cash payments to pensioners, Mr Morrison said the experience was people would go and spend that money in the economy.
Economists say whether Australia avoids recession will be determined by the length of time coronavirus continues to disrupt the nation.
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison has urged big business to support workers during the coronavirus crisis or risk brand damage.
“I’d be encouraging employers to take a flexible and forward-leaning approach in supporting their employees during this process,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Mr Frydenberg met with bank CEOs on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the virus on the economy.
“Australia’s banking system is strong and well capitalised to support households and businesses during this challenging time,” he said.
Banks will offer a range of assistance, from waiving fees and charges to interest-free periods, debt consolidation and a deferral of scheduled loan repayments.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Labor would support any necessary funding for the virus response.
“The cost of inaction will be far greater than the cost of action,” he said.
Mr Albanese said workforce issues would have to be solved, particularly for health sector staff.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has demanded the government legislate two weeks of paid leave for all workers to deal with the virus.