It is a worldwide health crisis and a once in a hundred years event. None of us alive have ever seen this or indeed anything remotely like it. War? Some of us have seen it. Financial Meltdown? Some of us have seen it. Coronavirus? None of us have seen it, nor (hopefully) will we again.
So what does it all mean in an Australian workplace context? One thing is for sure: with governments around the world locking down our entire societies, jobs will disappear overnight. In Australia, as this blog is being created, dozens of employers are invoking Section 524 of the Fair Work Act 2009 to stand their employees down without pay. Permanent employees with leave accruals will have the blow cushioned for a time until the leave accruals run out. Employees with short service or who are casual will have no cushion. They will be off work and have no pay. For them, the Federal Government is offering limited assistance (basically the JobSeeker Allowance plus a possible cash injection of $550 per fortnight). Employees will also be able to get some funds from their superannuation accounts (up to $20,000) if they are in hardship.
The unanswered question is: can the economy recover after being placed in what is looking like a total coma for many months? I truly hope that it can but it will require another massive injection of government funds in order to really recover. I simply don’t know if the jobs we had in Australia will ever come back in their entirety. Experience from the 1987 share market crash and the 2008/2009 GFC suggest that many jobs will simply never return.
So what should employers do now? My own opinion is that every employer in the country has to make decisions that will enable the business of that employer to revive once lockdown is lifted. If it means stand-downs, then that may have to be done. To be blunt, difficult decisions made now will underpin the ability of a business to be revived after the lockdown. That will give employees something of substance to come back to and that has to be our main priority. If that cannot be accomplished then we face a long economic depression and I don’t want to even go there in this blog.