Netflix app downloads are increasing in parts of the world as people prepare for long periods inside during the new coronavirus pandemic, but Jason Head spent Wednesday unsubscribing from all his streaming subscriptions.
The 26-year-old is scrambling to save money after he was laid off halfway through a five-hour shift at a car rental business at Perth Airport last week.
“There was no notice at all [my boss] just said ‘today is the last day for any casual shifts’,” Head told BuzzFeed News.
Earlier this month attorney-general Christian Porter suggested the higher rate of hourly pay casual workers receive meant many of them would have “already made provisions” if they were forced to take unpaid leave because of the pandemic.
Head’s emergency fund totals $600 and he still needs to pay rent as well as car registration, phone and electricity bills. This figure is in line with estimates made by Swinburne University of Technology researchers that show 38.9% of those earning A$600 or less per week have less than A$600 in savings to get them through. Over a quarter of people in this group are already in debt.
Researchers found the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will dramatically increase rental stress and potential homelessness, especially for people aged between 19 and 30 years, living independently with disposable incomes of A$600 a week from casual work or a combination of casual work and benefits.
“I might have to sell a few things and I’m thinking of signing up for Uber Eats [as a driver] as a way to get some form of income,” Head said.
Getting laid off has come at a particularly bad time for Head — he graduated from journalism last year and had given up paid shifts to undertake a two-week unpaid internship. Most weeks he works four or five eight-hour shifts.
“The plan was to keep going [working at the airport] until I got my first job in the field that I studied for,” he said.
Head has looked into applying for welfare but he hopes to have found work during the eight-week application process for Newstart.
“I’m not in danger of falling into a completely dire financial situation and I know there will be people bordering on homeless, some with small kids,” he said. “I’m personally very lucky that I’ve got a good support network in my friends and family.”
James Morrison was laid off last week from a full-time job as an audiovisual technician.
“We got $2.7 million worth of cancellations in events, which was the final death knock in regards to our business being able to stay afloat while paying employees,” Morrison told BuzzFeed News.
The government’s announcement to ban public gatherings of more than 500 people and then indoor gatherings of more than 100 people have made the events industry unsustainable for now, Morrison said.
Morrison said he was brought into a room with 20 other employees and a board member of the company said they would be “stood down indefinitely without pay”.
“He said ‘look guys, it’s pretty fucked’ and he pretty much told us in his 35 years in the business he’d never seen anything like it,” Morrison said. “There are a couple of people who would have preferred a redundancy… but it is good that we will still be on the books but it could be three, six, eight months without work and that uncertainty is really tough when there are people who support families.”
A few days earlier all casual staff were told their shifts had been cancelled.
“One had the next 16 days in a row full for work and that went to nothing,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s plan is to use the time to work on creative projects because there are “no other jobs in the events industry” right now.
“Especially with the banning of events of 100 people or more that is even less nightclubs or bars I could work at,” he said. “I’ve been on Seek and I’m thinking of working on construction and applying for sales assistant roles.”
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Hobart man Michael — who asked not to use his last name for privacy reasons — all but lost his two forms of income this week. He works as a tour manager for an alcohol company and a copywriter.
“The company that I copy-write for runs some pretty big events and has cancelled all of them and tightened up their operations and has basically gone completely into hibernation,” the 30-year-old told BuzzFeed News. “My other hospitality work has been massively impacted as when we’re busy I’m working full-time and now I’m down to 30% if not 20%.”
Tasmania’s hospitality industry had already taken a huge hit since the new coronavirus outbreak began, he said.
“I know of venues that have had to make the call to close by the end of this week both from a financial standpoint and a public health standpoint,” he said.
Michael said his employers had been “really forthcoming and proactive” about communicating what was happening, which was more than he could say for “our friends in Canberra”, he said, criticising the Australian government’s response to the crisis.
He has warned his mother he might have to borrow some money to continue paying rent and has decided against applying for welfare while he’s trying to get more work.
“I don’t think it is worth jumping through the hoops with Newstart because it relies on you applying for jobs and there are no jobs to apply for.”
Some businesses have made plans to slightly ease the burden on casual workers. Australia’s largest employer Woolworths announced last week it would pay casual employees up to two weeks’ wages if they are quarantined, infected or have to care for others affected by the new coronavirus.
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