30th March, 2020

Wage subsidies grow to $130bn in stimulus to employers, sole traders

The Federal Government has unveiled an unprecedented $130 billion program to subsidise wages for employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

Disclaimer: This article is designed as a news piece and may not reflect current information. For a wrap-up of stimulus measures available to Australian businesses, click through to this page.

In a move to take pressure of the welfare system while also incentivising employers to keep the workers on for as long as possible, the Government has today announced a massive increase to its wage subsidy scheme as part of its ongoing response to COVID-19.

The new scheme, dubbed JobKeeper, will reimburse employers up to $1500 per fortnight per employee, as long as the business meets a series of guidelines (outlined below).

The payment applies to full-time, part-time and casual workers, along with sole traders. (Apprentices, on the other hand, had provisions included in the first round of stimulus measures, which are still in place).

In a press conference earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the payments are designed to “keep the engine of our economy running”.

“It may run on idle for a time, but it must continue to run,” he said. “Our businesses, large and small, right across the entire economy, will share the load with our welfare system.”

Additionally, Morrison also announced a change to the existing JobSeeker program – raising the partner income threshold to nearly $80,000.

What is the new JobKeeper program?

The JobKeeper program is a wage subsidy reimbursement program. It is designed for employers to keep employees on their books during a prolonged period of declining revenue.

How does the JobKeeper program work?

The JobKeeper program appears to be designed as an expansion to the Boosting Cash Flow initiative the Government has previously announced, which sees credits and refunds applied by the ATO.

Which would mean above all else, a business most likely needs to be registered and up to date with BAS statements and Single Touch Payroll (STP) in order to receive the stimulus in a timely manner.

Employers will also need to meet the following criteria to qualify:

  • Employers must register with the Government to access the scheme
  • The payment applies from 1 March
  • Businesses can apply today, and they will receive reimbursements from the first week of May
  • Those reimbursements will be backdated to 1 March
  • If employees have been stood down from 1 March, they are still eligible for payments
  • Employers must pay superannuation on any wages, except when an employee earns above the rate at which they were employed
  • In cases where employees will earn more than their usual wage, employers can choose to pay that extra superannuation guarantee, but it’s not required of them

If you’re an eligible employer, you’re encouraged to register for the JobKeeper scheme as soon as possible.

Who is eligible?

All full-time, part-time, and casual workers are eligible for employers to claim.

In the case of casual workers, they are eligible if they have been employed for at least 12 months.

In order to access the scheme, business owners must prove a 30 percent or more revenue decline.

In the case of businesses earning over $1 billion, the decline must be 50 percent or more.

Businesses must demonstrate the revenue drop occurred for at least a month compared to the same period in 2019.

Additionally, businesses need to:

  • Register an intention to apply on the ATO website
  • Provide information to the ATO on eligible employees
  • Continue to provide information to the ATO on a monthly basis
  • Pay the full $1500 payment to the respective employee
  • Notify all eligible employees they will receive the payment

The end result is that some employees may end up receiving more than they would usually earn.

Business without employees

Self-employed workers can apply for the payment as well.

If you’re a sole trader, freelancer or anyone else who qualifies as self-employed, you’ll need to provide:

  • An ABN
  • Nominate a person to receive a payment
  • Provide the nominee’s Tax File Number
  • Provide a declaration of business activity

Employee numbers verified by Single Touch Payroll

Morrison said during the press conference today that wage subsidy payments will be managed by the ATO, using Single Touch Payroll data.

As a result, businesses must keep any employee registered through STP in order to receive and distribute the payment.

Find out everything you need to know about STP here.

How long will the scheme last?

The scheme will last six months.

Businesses are encouraged to top up wages beyond $1500

If a business receives the $1500 payment, they will receive the subsidy – but they can also add more money on top of that to fulfill a worker’s complete wage.

This announcement brings the total amount to be spent on COVID-19 related stimulus to $330 billion.

“Our government has made a decision today that no government has made before,” Scott Morrison said.

“Our goal is to protect lives and livelihoods of Australians to protect and preserve the economy that we depend on and to get to the other side as well.”

Parliament will need to be recalled in order to pass legislation approving the package.

MYOB announces support for wage subsidies

MYOB chief executive Greg Ellis has spoken out in favour of the new scheme.

“Small businesses around the country have spent weeks trying to keep their doors open, pivoting their businesses to comply with rapidly evolving COVID-19 requirements and, most importantly, continuing to pay their employees,” said Ellis.

“The ATO will use Single Touch Payroll data to pre-populate employee details for most businesses and with the Government requiring visibility of payments to employees, what’s key is that small businesses use a reliable approach to tracking and reporting payroll, which accounting software can support.”

If your business is impacted by COVID-19 and you’re looking for assistance on any matters related to business finance and taxation, we recommend consulting with a financial advisor as soon as possible. Click here for specialist advisors near you.