Older Aussies and the unemployed called on to help out in crisis

Older and unemployed Australians could be called on to work for their Centrelink payments and prop up the nation’s ailing supply chain during the peak of the Omicron outbreak.

Social services minister Anne Ruston suggests older Australians, temporary visa holders and the unemployed could be ‘put to work’ to help feed regional and remote communities after staff shortages decimated food supply chains.

The Independent Food Distributors Association (IFDA) says the staff shortages are having a devastating impact on businesses, with rural communities particularly vulnerable.

“We’ve got to keep in mind the remote and Indigenous communities are out there and we need to make sure we keep getting the food up to them,” said IFDA chief Richard Forbes.

“It’s the great unknown at the moment … we need to be as prepared as possible.”

Mr Forbes wants all levels of government to prioritise critical distribution services and subsidise the cost of running independent businesses during the pandemic. He’s also called on the government to supply free rapid antigen tests to retail and supply workers.

“Just as we’re getting our head above water, we have to pay for RAT tests. We should get free RAT tests for servicing the most vulnerable in society. That’s fair,” he said.   

Independent distributors deliver food to 1500 hospitals and aged care facilities around Australia, as well as prisons, schools and military bases, says a Daily Mail report.

Senator Ruston, who is also the acting minister for small business, believes the burden on the nation’s supply chain could be eased by opening up job opportunities for older Australians, the unemployed, and temporary visa holders.

She says they could be ‘encouraged’ to stack supermarket shelves to help alleviate critical supply shortages.

“A very high number of the workforce are currently furloughed either because they have COVID, are caring for someone with COVID or are a close contact,’ she said.

“Anybody who is currently on unemployment benefits who is able to work, we would be really keen for them to undertake some really active investigations about how they could help out with these workforce shortages.

“Many older Australians, I am sure, will be happy to do a few extra hours to help out at the moment.”

Critical industries are expected to back the government’s proposal. The National Coordination Mechanism is currently discussing this and other potential solutions for solving the worsening supply chain crisis.

Senator Ruston said the government was “constantly” working on ways to push through the Omicron wave.

“Today’s talks are about how we can connect business, particularly small business, with JobSeekers through the job active and disability employment services networks,” she said.

Job vacancies are now at record highs. During the past year, advertised employment numbers have surged by 56.1 per cent, making it even more difficult for employers to recruit staff.

The number of job ads in November 2021 was 74.2 per cent higher than in February 2020.

One issue causing staff shortages is the confusion around isolation and testing requirements. Businesses have called for national consistency and clarity around these measures.

The government has declared that workers in critical industries with negative COVID tests will no longer have to self-isolate if they are a close contact with a positive case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this meant supermarket workers could stack shelves at night, so long as they weren’t interacting with customers.

Despite the change, employers are still struggling to find low-skilled workers.

“A number of industries are reporting labour shortages, particularly for lower paid jobs,” said CommSec senior economist Ryan Felsman.

Senator Ruston believes tapping these new pools of potential workers could help plug the shortages.

Would you be happy to help out during this crisis? Why not share your opinions in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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