Industry calls for disaster wage subsidy

Businesses affected by natural disasters should have access to a disaster wage subsidy, Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Transport and Infrastructure Adviser Sam Marks said today.

Mr Marks was giving evidence before the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

“The ATA has recommended that businesses, including trucking businesses, should have access to a disaster wage subsidy,” Mr Marks said.

“The use of wage subsidies to maintain employment from short term and unexpected impacts was used in response to Tropical Cyclone Yasi and widespread flooding in 2011, and more recently through the JobKeeper program in response to COVID-19.

“Compared to laying off staff and encouraging them to apply for Disaster Recovery Allowance, income support through the proposed wage subsidy would have advantages for both employers and employees.

“The availability of a wage subsidy could enable a business to continue operating. It could also enable a business to avoid the substantial cost of recruiting and training new staff as it restarts operations.

“For employees, the availability of a wage subsidy may enable them to stay employed at a very stressful and hard time.

The wage subsidy would be set to the same value as the Disaster Recovery Allowance,” he said.

Mr Marks said the impact of the 2019/2020 bushfires on trucking businesses and their employees was unprecedented and that trucking operators should have access to the support they deserve.

“Trucks played a vital role in delivering essential goods to communities during the bushfires, making sure there was adequate access to water, food and medical supplies,” Mr Marks said.

“However, while these operators were supporting others, some lost their homes, workplaces and equipment, while others dealt with prolonged time away from their families, suffering financial loss and personal hardship as a result of road closures and lengthy delays,” he said.

Mr Marks was joined in the hearing by South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) CEO Steve Shearer and Western Roads Federation (WRF) CEO Cam Dumesny, who highlighted the devastating impact of the bushfires, in particular the road closures and lengthy delays operators faced around the country.

During the hearing, the ATA backed calls from SARTA and WRF for a single, nationally coordinated information source that would be responsible for ensuring the delivery of accurate information to industry in a timely manner, as well as embedding an industry representative in emergency advisory bodies.

“We must be prepared and ensure that trucking operators have access to the latest information to ensure they can keep communities supplied and connected,” Mr Marks said.

Mr Marks, Mr Shearer and Mr Dumesny highlighted the tremendous collaborative efforts of governments during the COVID-19 pandemic and encouraged that the momentum be maintained.

“National, state and local governments have demonstrated a great understanding and support for the trucking industry as we face COVID-19. The same positive approach needs to be applied in response to bushfires and other natural disasters in the future,” Mr Marks said.

The Commission will use the information drawn from public submissions and hearings to inform a report and recommendations for preventing, mitigating, and responding to, future natural disasters. The report is scheduled for release by the end of August 2020.

The ATA and its member associations collectively represent the 50,000 businesses and 200,000 people in the Australian trucking industry. Together, the ATA and its members are committed to safety, professionalism and viability.

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