The ACT recorded the largest relative drop in payroll jobs across Australia in the fortnight ending September 5, new Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.
With a drop of 0.9 per cent in payroll jobs over the fortnight, the territory beat out even locked-down Victoria (0.8 per cent) as the worst-performing jurisdiction.
The hospitality sector has been among the worst-affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with data from the Australian Hotels Association suggesting the ACT is losing 60 jobs a day in hospitality.
Kingston’s East Hotel general manager Todd Handy said with upcoming uncertainty regarding JobKeeper, easing restrictions could help hospitality businesses stay afloat.
The hotels association has called on the ACT government and health officials to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in a bid to protect hospitality jobs and businesses in Canberra, which it says has already seen more than 3000 jobs lost during the pandemic.
AHA ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said the ACT had lost 900 hospitality jobs in a fortnight, bringing the total to 3670 jobs lost, or roughly 25 per cent of Canberra’s hospitality sector.
“Costs are resuming [for businesses] and increasing exponentially,” Mr Brierley said.
“JobKeeper is being reduced. Many businesses will be paying payroll tax and commercial rates again. Banks will demand that loans start to be repaid. Many rent deferrals will cease.
“Despite the resumption of these costs, patronage numbers are stuck at 25 per cent of normal. These job-destroying, revenue-decimating restrictions need to be eased for the industry to survive.”
The association called for venue restrictions to be eased from one patron per four square metres to one per two square metres by October, effectively doubling some venues’ useable space.
An ACT Health spokesman said a cautious approach was being adopted to easing restrictions as the ACT did not exist in vacuum and the status of COVID-19 cases in other states and territories needed to be monitored.
He said while some changes had been made for smaller venues, the risk posed by larger venues was greater.
“We look at the cumulative public health risk of gatherings of people, both small and large, who may or may not know each other, and the risk of outbreaks from these groups,” he said.
“We continuously monitor the situation in the ACT and assess the level of restrictions. We aim to strike a balance, where we can, to continue to move forward and support businesses, but in a staged and cautious manner.
“The last thing we want to see in the ACT is … restrictions needing to be tightened.”
East Hotel, like many businesses across the sector, has struggled with severely reduced patronage of its accommodation, restaurant, bar and conference facilities.
Mr Handy said the hotel’s consistent 90 per cent occupancy had dropped to 10 per cent in March and gradually grown since then – although even during August’s Parliamentary sitting, a time the hotel would normally be “swatting people away”, capacity reached only about 50 per cent.
After having to stand down 70 per cent of staff prior to JobKeeper payments starting, the hotel’s full-time staff remain on reduced hours and fewer casual staff have been employed.
Many of the staff were international students or on international visas and did not qualify for JobKeeper, Mr Handy said, but the hotel tried to strike a balance between protecting the business and supporting its workers.
“There are concerns whether or not we will still qualify [for JobKeeper], as the government changes the requirements for being eligible,” Mr Handy said.
“Depending on what happens in the next quarter, if we don’t qualify for JobKeeper, that will have even more significant effects on our business.
“Which I believe could be curtailed by changing the ratios in public spaces and encouraging people to Canberra.
“Hopefully we see light at the end of the tunnel soon.”
Between mid-March and September 5, payroll jobs dropped 4.5 per cent in the ACT, mirroring the national figure. Victoria recorded the worst drop in that time of 8.3 per cent.
The hospitality sector has dropped almost 22 per cent of payroll jobs in that same time period.