CORONAVIRUS UPDATE – 24.03.2020
WHAT RESTRICTIONS HAS THE GOVERNMENT INTRODUCED?
The Prime Minister announced a shutdown of places of public gatherings from 12:00pm (midday) on Monday 23 March 2020. This includes hotels, bars, nightclubs, casinos, restaurants and cafes.
The following exceptions apply:
– Bottle shops – retail bottle shops and the off-licence operations of licensed premises – further clarification is being sought in relation to how this applies to Hotels;
– Accommodation – the accommodation section of hotels, motels and resorts;
– Restaurants/Cafes – takeaway and home delivery;
A copy of the Prime Minister’s statement can be accessed here.
Detailed information on employment questions is available here: COVID-19 EMPLOYMENT UPDATE.
5 steps businesses can take
In the midst of managing the business impacts of the crisis, here are 5 things you might want to think about.
- Make sure you are following health and safety guidance from the Department of Health.
- Communicate what health and safety measures you are taking in your business to your customers and partners.
- The Department of Health has launched a national campaign to inform all Australians about the coronavirus. They have developed a range of resources for businesses to use, find out more here.
- The Australian, State and Territory Governments have announced a series of measures to support businesses and individuals during this difficult time. Find out more here.
- Look after your mental health and reach out if you need help.
Helpline for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19
From today, the Morrison Government’s Business Hotline – 13 28 46 – will be expanded to provide specialist advisers and extended hours to support small and medium businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Operations at the www.business.gov.au 13 28 46 Contact Centre will increase from five days per week to seven days per week, and provide an additional two hours a day of support outside standard operating hours for the first month, answering calls from 7.00 am to 11.00pm AEST.
The Government is rolling out comprehensive, targeted assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and we want businesses who are looking for information to be supported. During these challenging times businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 need readily available access to advice so they can fully understand the assistance available to them and their employees. To read the media release on the helpline, click here.
For more information on the assistance available to businesses please go to www.business.gov.au.
Please also go to https://www.australia.gov.au. This site will link you to the latest COVID-19 news, updates and advice from Australian Government Agencies.
The National Security Committee of Cabinet has today decided to raise the advice for all overseas travel to the highest level. Its advice to all Australians – regardless of destination, age or health – is ‘do not travel overseas at this time’. This the highest travel advice setting – Level 4 of 4 and has never before been activated. In addition, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has advised Australians who are overseas and who wish to return to Australia, to do so as soon as possible by commercial means as these may soon become limited. A number of commercial carriers have shut down or reduced their international flight schedules, including Qantas and Virgin Australia. Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas, including Australian citizens and permanent residents, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of arrival.
Aviation Industry Support
The Commonwealth Government has also announced an aviation package for the refunding and ongoing waiving of a range of Government charges, including aviation fuel excise, air services charges on domestic airline operations and domestic and regional aviation security charges. These measures are in response to the unprecedented and likely sustained period of falling international and domestic aviation demand related to the impact of the coronavirus. The total cost of the measures is estimated to be $715 million, with an upfront estimated benefit of $159 million to our airlines for reimbursement of applicable charges paid by domestic airlines since 1 February 2020.
Domestic Air Travel
National Cabinet agreed that all Australians should only consider travelling when it is essential. If unwell, people must stay at home, unless seeking medical care. National Cabinet agreed that public transport is essential and that AHPPC advice should apply in relation to public transport (trains, trams, buses, ferries), taxi and ride share vehicles and transport of vulnerable populations, with particular attention given to cleaning and hygiene.
National Cabinet agreed that domestic air travel is low risk. The issue of where people are travelling to and sensitive locations where travel should be restricted, will be developed with advice of states and territories. The National Cabinet will further consider social distancing arrangements for domestic transport at its next meeting on Friday 20 March 2020. In all cases, appropriate social distancing and hygiene practices should be applied.
Protecting Indigenous and NDIS Australia
Further work will be progressed by Friday 20 March 2020 and will include additional support for vulnerable Australians including indigenous communities and NDIS participants. The Department of Social Services (DSS), National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) are working together to respond to COVID-19 and its impact on the NDIS.
International Student Nurses
The Commonwealth Government will relax international student nurse visa work conditions to provide workforce continuity for aged care facilities, home care providers and other health care workers. This will allow international student nurses and other aged care workers to work more than the 40 hours a fortnight that they are currently. This measure will be examined on an ongoing basis.
KEY CONTACT POINTS FOR CORONAVIRUS ADVICE
Further to the question raised about contact points for coronavirus related advice, we confirm the following fully dedicated contact points for members which are being maintained and monitored on a 24/7 basis:
KEY CONTACT POINTS FOR REVISED GUIDELINES
TAA NSW has been advised by Senator Birmingham’s office that if members have questions regarding the new guidelines, please:
The COVID-19 Employer Guide provides members with guidance around managing the workplace in the face of the outbreak, including general employer obligations around staff leave entitlements, changing or scaling down operations and business shut down.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has prepared a range of FAQ’s relating to the coronavirus, employee leave and entitlements which can be accessed here.
TAA Employment Templates
Please see the attached links to:
COVID-19 Stand Down Template
COVID-19 Casual Employee No Shifts Template
NOTE: All members must seek advice from Phil Ryan and his team at 02 8218 1855 prior to following these template documents
Information regarding visa holders can be found in this document.
Financial Support Information
The Australian Government has established a website where businesses can find critical information regarding financial assistance, eligibility and timing for the new government support for Australian businesses. This includes information around increasing the instant asset write-off, boosting cash flow for employers and measures to support apprentices and trainees.
The NSW Government today announced its own stimulus and support package to complement the above. The package includes $450 million to waive payroll tax for the next three months for businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million. There will also be $80 million to axe a range of fees and charges for small businesses. Further information will be provided as it comes to hand.
Individual income support factsheet can be found here.
Early Access to Superannuation
The Government is allowing individuals affected by the Coronavirus to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21. Read more here in the Government fact sheet.
Update on the duty of directors to prevent insolvent trading
Government has now introduced new “safe harbour” provisions, which will apply for 6 months from the commencement date (TBA) in respect of debts incurred in the “ordinary course of the company’s business”.
A company will be taken to incur a debt in the ordinary course of business if it is necessary to facilitate the continuation of the business during the relevant period. The Explanatory Memorandum suggests this could include:
- taking out loans; or
- continuing to pay employees.
For example, it would also likely cover debts incurred in respect of:
- a new cleaning regime;
- delivery of food or products; and
- engaging consultants.
The new “safe harbour” is an automatic process providing personal protection for directors from the commencement date.
Despite these new provisions, Henry William Lawyers (insolvency specialists and AHA members) recommends all businesses act early with necessary or desirable restructuring action. Whilst a new defence to insolvent trading may partially address directors’ personal statutory liability concerns, new debt accruing through a period of no trade still may have crippling long term effects if not addressed as soon as possible. Further, this new law will not reduce potential liabilities for directors under personal guarantees. Commercial leverage to negotiate with key third parties will also be at its strongest in the earlier days.
For specific advice regarding this matter, contact Mark Faraday of Henry William Lawyers. Henry William Lawyers are associate members of the AHA NSW.
Advice for your staff
- Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover your sneeze or cough with your elbow or tissues, and discard used tissues in the trash.
- Avoid touching your face
- Avoid people who are sick with respiratory symptoms.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces
- NSW Health advise “Face masks are not recommended for the general population”
Hotel staff must self-isolate:
- if they have transited from overseas;
- if they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus in the last 14 days (they must isolate themselves for 14 days after the date of last contact).
Tax Deductible Gifts
We have received queries about providing stood down employees (who are not otherwise entitled to pay) with some form of gift (e.g. an Eftpos gift Card) to support them during any period of closure.
A gift to an employee is a tax deduction to the employer and is not subject to superannuation and would not incur any additional payroll tax or workers compensation insurance. Using the gift card example, this would be considered “cash” and there is no GST that can be claimed.
That said, the provision of a gift to an employee is a fringe benefit and could be subject to fringe benefits tax. There is an exemption to fringe benefits tax for minor benefits which are defined as infrequent with a value of less than $300, hence if a member decided to do this for an employee a value of say $250 would be prudent.
You should contact your accountant for specific professional advice in these circumstances.
Work Health and Safety
Safe Work Australia has compiled information relevant to persons conducting a business or undertaking. This link contains information from SafeWork NSW.
It is recommended that PCBUs ensure an appropriate cleaner is used in regularly wiping down surfaces throughout venues (including door handles, tables and chairs, handrails, ATM’s and gaming machines etc.).
Staff should also be regularly reminded of the critical importance of maintaining hygiene in the workplace (such as the regular washing of hands and use of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitisers which should be readily available for staff).
Room cleaning staff should avoid close contact with guests who have self-isolated. They should wear gloves while cleaning, and use alcohol hand rub before and after wearing gloves.
PCBUs also have an obligation to consult with other PCBUs (such as external contractors attending the venue) to ensure that they are also taking necessary steps to comply with WHS obligations. We recommend that members seek written assurances from external contractors (particularly cleaning staff) that they have implemented all necessary measures to comply with their own obligations in terms of following the advice of public health authorities.
We have consulted with a range of industry insurance brokers who have advised that, generally speaking, a downturn or stoppage of trade as a result of a global pandemic such as the coronavirus would not enliven an insurance claim for disruption of trade. Members are however encouraged to make their own enquiries of their insurance broker should the circumstances arise as individual policies may vary.
Public/General Health and Responding to Customer Concerns
A range of information relating to public and general health can be accessed at the links below:
NSW Health Corona Virus FAQS https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx
The current advice is that face masks are not required to be worn by members of the general public.
In terms of dealing with customer enquiries around the safety of patrons attending member venues, we recommend that members assure their customers that all reasonable steps are being taken to mitigate against the risk of transmission of infection within the venue (with reference to standard and additional cleaning measures as recommended by public health authorities).
As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve we encourage you to stay up-to-date with the latest information from the relevant authorities. A heat map with the latest data on the number of cases globally and in Australia is available here.
Information for Hotel and Travel Operators
Guest rooms and back of house cleaning should continue as usual. In the event there is a guest self-isolating at your hotel it is important that all staff take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. If the guest does not have symptoms the risk should be low if the staff wash their hands well. In general staff should avoid close contact with these guests but it is safe to be in same room (at a distance) without protective equipment, such as when delivering food, which we recommend guests have in their room.
For cleaning staff it is recommended that they avoid close contact with guests who are self-isolating. They should:
- Before entering the room inquire if the guest is well and ask them to put on a mask
- Wear gloves while cleaning
- Use alcohol based hand rub before and after wearing gloves
Cleaning staff may wish to wear a surgical mask while cleaning the room. The use of detergent and disinfectants is recommended.
Please find one factsheet for hotel management and staff and the other for hotel guests. They include more information about preventive action staff and guests should take and the restrictions that now apply to anyone travelling from overseas.
The restrictions the department has recommended are highly precautionary measure. They still believe that people are unlikely to be infectious if they are well.
If your staff have further concerns, they should contact their state or territory public health authority on the below numbers:
- ACT call 02 5124 9213 during business hours or (02) 9962 4155 after hours
- NSW call 1300 066 055
- NT call 08 8922 8044
- Qld call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
- SA call 1300 232 272
- Tas call 1800 671 738
- Vic call 1300 651 160
- WA call 08 9328 0553
** This information is up to date as at 21.03.2020 **