EXPLAINER

Coronavirus: the federal government's JobKeeper program explained

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the JobKeeper program was a guarantee businesses could take to the bank. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the JobKeeper program was a guarantee businesses could take to the bank. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Since the Morrison government unveiled its $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy, we've been inundated with questions about how the package will work.

While the final details will be determined when parliament debates the legislation on Wednesday, the Treasury Department has shed some light on some of the curlier questions we've received.

I've been living under a rock. What's the JobKeeper payment and who gets it?

This is a wage subsidy scheme to help employers in Australia keep staff on during the coronavirus crisis (not to be confused with the JobSeeker scheme, which is a Centrelink payment for people who are unemployed).

Through the Australian Tax Office, the federal government will provide businesses who are part of the scheme with $1500 per employee, per fortnight for up to six months.

Employees will get paid a minimum of $1500 per fortnight before tax. Employers can top that up, so if you normally earn more than that, your employer could make up the difference.

It also means you're in for a pay rise if you normally earned less than $1500 per fortnight before tax, as this is a minimum payment. You also still get that $1500 before tax minimum if you've been stood down.

It will only be available for businesses who can prove turnover has fallen by more than 30 per cent (if the business usually has turnover of less than $1 billion) or 50 per cent (if turnover is usually more than $1 billion). Government agencies and major banks also don't qualify.

Employers will get monthly payments from the government through the Australian Tax Office. The payments will be made in arrears though, meaning employers will be out of pocket until the first payment is made in May.

People who are self-employed can also claim the payment where they expect to suffer a 30 per cent decline in turnover compared to a similar period a year ago.

Who doesn't get it?

Casuals who have worked for an employer for less than 12 months and temporary visa holders who are not New Zealanders (visa holders 444) are not eligible for the JobKeeper scheme.

This is a big deal, because the Australia Council of Trade Unions says over 40 per cent of casual workers have been with their current employer for less than 12 months and thus don't qualify - about one million people. Approximately one million temporary visaholders are also excluded.

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What happens if I'm a new business trying to get this payment? I don't have a period of one year ago to compare my current situation to!

In situations like these, the Commissioner of Taxation will have discretion to consider extra information form the business to prove they have been adversely affected by the coronavirus downturn.

This also applies to a business where their turnover one year ago may not have been representative of their usual or average turnover (i.e. because there was a large interim acquisition or because turnover is usually quite variable).

Once the legislation passes, the Australian Tax Office will put out more information to businesses to help them assess their eligibility, even when it's not so clear cut.

Will I be able to backdate claims? My business was doing okay early on but things are starting to go south now and I may need to let people go soon.

If a business does not meet the turnover test at the start of the JobKeeper scheme on March 30, the business can start receiving the payment at a later time when the turnover test has been met.

However if this happens, the JobKeeper Payment is not backdated to the commencement of the scheme.

However the Tax Commissioner will have also have discretion to set out alternative tests to establish eligibility in specific circumstances, say when a business shutsor significantly cuts back its operations.

There will also be some tolerance where employers, in good faith, estimate a greater than 30 per cent or 50 per cent fall in turnover but actually experience a slightly smaller fall.

What if I don't have cash flow to pay staff until my subsidy lands in May?

Businesses who are struggling with cash flow have been told to ask their bank about extending overdraft facilities until the JobKeeper payments begin in the first week of May.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday described JobKeeper program as "an absolute guarantee you can take to the bank".

"Because those payments will be made for each of those employees and that should enable them to put a facility in place with their bank so they can make those payments to their employees," Mr Morrison said.

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This story Your JobKeeper questions answered first appeared on The Canberra Times.