Virus-safe workplaces crucial in back-to-work plan

By AAP | 06 May 2020 View comments

Businesses have been urged to make workplaces coronavirus-safe in preparation for a major economic restart.

National cabinet has set a July target to reignite business and industry, with federal and state leaders looking to stem the pandemic-induced economic bleeding.

JobKeeper payments for workers stood down during the outbreak began rolling out on Wednesday.

Fewer businesses than expected have signed onto the wage subsidy scheme, but the treasurer has ruled out extending the program to more ineligible workers.

“There will be some who actually say, it’s too generous. It’s too large,” Josh Frydenberg told ABC radio.

Frydenberg also continues to insist the temporarily doubled JobSeeker payment will go back to $40 a day after the pandemic.

“I believe that Australia has a fair and decent welfare safety net,” he said.

Businesses shuttered during the virus outbreak are being given industry-specific advice on how to reopen safely.

The Safe Work Australia website has been turbocharged to provide specific advice to 23 sectors across 1300 pages.

Cleaning standards and maintaining physical distancing to limit the spread of the virus are among the most important requirements.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said staggered hours were one way to reduce contact as people return to work.

“We don’t want everybody crowding on public transport at the same time,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“We don’t want everyone crowding in the lifts at the beginning of the day and the end of the day.”

Professor Murphy said cleaning products and hand sanitiser should be in workplaces, while hot-desk arrangements would need to change.

He also said using video conferencing where possible and maintaining the handshake ban would be important.

Businesses will also be given advice on managing potential outbreaks and reconfiguring sites to meet health standards.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed the importance of coronavirus-safe workplaces as the nation looks to repair economic damage.

Shutdown measures are estimated to cost $4 billion a week nationally.

“We now need to get one million Australians back to work. That is the curve we need to address,” Morrison said.

Some economic and social restrictions are set to be eased on Friday after the next meeting of federal and state leaders.

“When we ease these restrictions, you will see numbers increase in some areas. You will see outbreaks occur in other places. That is to be expected,” Morrison said.

“What matters is how you deal with it.”

Unions are pushing for businesses to be compelled to provide virus-safe environments, but Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter believes existing laws force employers to comply.

There have been 97 coronavirus deaths in Australia, while more than 5800 people have recovered from the disease.

Testing rates are high with 665,000 conducted and 6849 infections detected.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand are forging ahead with plans to create a special travel zone in coming months.

While not expected within weeks, the resumption of trans-Tasman routes will be the first reopening of Australia’s international borders.

This article first appeared on Inside Retail, a sibling website to Inside Franchise Business Executive.