THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has welcomed legislation passed by the Federal Government overnight, that will see thousands of small businesses receive the JobKeeper payment from early May.

The flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee will be delivered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), assisting small businesses pay their staff that continue to work as well as staff that have been stood down since March 1, 2020.

Small businesses, including sole traders, which have an annual turnover of less than $1 billion and estimate their turnover has fallen or will fall by 30 percent or more are eligible for the subsidy. 

“The government’s $130 billion JobKeeper scheme is the biggest financial lifeline Australia has ever seen and I congratulate parliament for passing the legislation with bipartisan support,” Ms Carnell said.

“The JobKeeper payment is critical to the survival of small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Crucially it will allow small businesses to continue operating and paying their staff. It will also keep small businesses connected to their staff, who have been stood down, so they can re-engage their team when the time comes to ramp up," Ms Carnell said.

“There has been a lot of confusion out there about eligibility for JobKeeper, but the intent of this policy is to be inclusive of small and micro-businesses under financial strain in this difficult time. That includes sole traders, partnerships, contractors, freelancers and trusts.

“My message to small businesses is – if you think you might be eligible, visit the ATO website and express your interest. You just need your ABN and contact details. The ATO will get back to you," she said.

“Importantly, small businesses that have signed up for JobKeeper will need to make the payments now before they are reimbursed by the ATO in May.

“Above all, we know that there’s never been a tougher time to be in business, but the JobKeeper package provides the practical financial support and the hope small businesses need as we wait for this health crisis to pass.”

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has welcomed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s COVID-19 business hibernation plan, flagged today.

“The only way for small businesses to survive the coming months is if they can effectively hit pause for the time being,” Ms Carnell said.

“For businesses to bounce back when this health crisis is over, they need a holiday from all costs that they incur during this extremely difficult period. 

“Small businesses – including those that are forced to shut their doors as well as those who suffer a significant loss of income – should be able to go into business hibernation. 

“Understandably, the details of the government’s business hibernation plan are still being considered. It’s a mammoth effort that requires everyone to come together and be a part of the solution," Ms Carnell said.

“Landlords, utility and service providers, telecommunications and all levels of government will need to put their fees and charges on hold or face losing that customer altogether if there is a tidal wave of insolvencies.

“Part of this needs to be a wage subsidy for staff that remain attached to the business. Those staff would need to be paid at least 60 percent of their wage up to a maximum monthly amount. This of course would need a minimum safety net built in.

“My office, as always, is working with the small business community to ensure we are advocating for the best way forward.

“Small businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy and need our support more than ever right now.

“We are at a critical tipping point, but we can get through this if we work together.” 

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, requesting support for Australia’s small business sector, including the nation’s 1.4 million sole traders.

“The COVID-19 driven downturn is already taking an unprecedented toll on the Australian small business community,” Ms Carnell said..

“Sole traders, which account for more than 60 percent of Australian businesses, are currently ineligible for cash flow assistance of up to $25,000 because it is only available to businesses that directly employ staff. 

“Our view is that government support should be extended to small businesses, including sole traders who are facing dire circumstances amid this COVID-19 health crisis.”

The Ombudsman has suggested a suite of measures that could be implemented by the Federal Government that could help sole traders, independent contractors and small businesses – particularly those operating in tourism, events, training, catering and hospitality industries – in the short term.

“Sole traders and independent contractors need income support right now without the administrative burden of asset testing,” Ms Carnell said.

“New Zealand’s recently announced wage subsidy scheme providing eligible businesses, including sole traders and self-employed people with $585 per week (employers can receive a maximum of $150,000), for each full-time employee for a period of 12 weeks, is a model the government should consider.

“We also believe New Zealand’s COVID-19 leave and self-isolation support package providing all small business employees, including sole traders, who are unable to work or are caring for others with weekly payments of up to $585 for a period of up to eight weeks is worthy of government consideration," she said.

“Sole traders should be eligible for immediate rebates of PAYG quarterly instalment payments paid during the 2019/2020 financial year and PAYG payments on income drawn from the business.

“Cash flow is absolutely vital for all small businesses, including sole traders, who should be given one-off access to their superannuation at this critical time," Ms Carnell said.

“Low interest loans should also be extended to those small businesses and sole traders impacted by a loss of trade due to COVID-19, similar to what has been offered to bushfire affected small businesses.

“Finally, a national small business recovery program, including fast-tracked regional infrastructure projects and mandated small business supplier quotas in all government procurement is required for the nation to get back to business.”

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The Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) has issued a warning to employers that a loophole, which has seen wage theft in relation to superannuation guarantee (SG) rules in the past, is no longer.

“The IPA had originally advocated for the measure to be brought forward from its proposed start date of 1 July 2020, to the start of this financial year namely 1 July 2019,” said IPA chief executive officer, Andrew Conway.

“We were pleased that the Senate at least partly agreed with our position, and recommended the measure be brought forward to 1 January 2020.  

“The loophole came about where an employee salary sacrificed into his or her superannuation and the employer used that contribution to form part of the employer’s obligation to pay the 9.5 percent SG," Mr Conway said.

“Those employers who were doing the wrong thing by their employees can no longer get away with it.  As of 1 January 2020, employers cannot use employee salary sacrificed contributions to fulfill employer SG commitments.

“We would encourage employees to consider salary sacrificing into their superannuation if they are financially able to do so, to build their retirement nest egg.

“We also recommend that employees check to ensure they are receiving the minimum SG contribution, from their employers, which is currently 9.5 percent,” Mr Conway said.

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell HAS welcomed the Federal Government’s response to the review of the treatment of small business tax cases under the scheme for Compensation for Detriment Caused by Defective Administration (CDDA).

“Our research into unfair treatment by the ATO found serious system-wide issues impacting the small businesses," Ms Carnell said. “We are particularly pleased investigation of the most sensitive or complex CDDA claims and decisions on them will be independent of the ATO.  

“We also applaud the announcement that ATO procedures take into account a small business’ financial and personal capacity to respond to a review, audit or other compliance process," Ms Carnell said.

“The new Small Business Compensation Assistance Service, to be administered by our office, will complement our existing Small Business Concierge Service, which provides support to small business owners in dispute with the ATO.

“We are delighted we will now be able to help small businesses understand how they can pursue CDDA claims and we look forward to working closely with the ATO on increasing the awareness of the scheme.

“Having an effective and well-publicised CDDA scheme will help to ensure small businesses have access to justice when things go wrong.”

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SODEXO Australia has taken home two major awards in the facility management industry’s FM Industry Awards for Excellence: the Occupant Safety and Wellbeing award and the People and Productivity top honour.

The annual FM Industry Awards for Excellence present Australia’s highest accolades for facilities management in order to highlight an industry which works to ensure the safety, security and sustainability of the built environment. 

Sodexo FM Platform Australia director, Paul Amato said the awards were recognition of the company’s commitment to reshaping modern facilities management practices “and support of greater efficiencies and better service to workers and staff onsite”.

 “We’re proud of this achievement and hope to continue to set benchmarks for facilities management excellence through our quality of life services,” Mr Amato said. “It’s a true credit to Sodexo’s employees and leadership to be formally recognised in this year’s FM Industry Awards for Excellence.

“The awards are a testament to the company’s leadership, innovation and service in Australia’s FM sector.”

Sodexo was presented with the Occupant Safety and Wellbeing award for its specialised Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Improvement Program which provided solutions to the aging assets being used by residents in six villages across Western Australia.

The HVAC Improvement Program identified the issues relating to the aging assets regarding air quality and presented a cost-efficient solution. Since the ductwork was cleaned and coated, residents noticed a change in the environment, including the air being fresher and easier to breathe.

Sodexo won the People and Productivity award for its initiative to achieve greater efficiencies in communication between Sodexo’s offices and their clients' facilities.

Sodexo’s technical services team implemented technology solutions using an internet-of-things (IoT) framework to enable them to remotely capture asset condition, performance and data across multiple communication platforms.

Sodexo also sponsored the Industry Innovation award and congratulated Blue IoT on winning that category.

Sodexo in Australia employs a diverse workforce of more than 5000 employees delivering a unique array of over 100 integrated services lines including catering, facilities management, concierge services, security, asset maintenance and hospitality services in segments as diverse as corporate, healthcare, seniors, government and resources.

https://au.sodexo.com/.

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AUSTRALIAN Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell said she was "deeply concerned" by fresh data showing small business growth is in crisis. She is urging Federal and State Governments to do more to break down the barriers to business expansion.

“The Institute of Public Affairs’ (IPA) latest research has found an alarming decline in the rate of small business growth,” Ms Carnell said.

“What concerns me greatly about this report’s findings is the sharp drop in the percentage of small businesses hiring additional staff.

“Less than one percent of small businesses with 1-4 employees in 2017, employed more than four workers in 2018. That’s significantly below the historical transition rate of 6 percent. 

“Less than one percent of businesses with 5-19 employees were employing more than 19 people in 2018. That’s also well under the historical transition rate of 4 percent," she said.

“A major issue is Australia’s rigid industrial relations system. The research cites World Economic Forum surveys, which have consistently found Australia’s labour market regulation is the most problematic factor for doing business.

“Part of that broad picture is ensuring small business owners can feel confident they can meet their obligations and avoid an unfair dismissal claim in the event they need to let a worker go," Ms Carnell said.

“That’s why my office has recommended a number of important changes and additional checklists to the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code.

“A clearer Code would reduce the risk of unfair dismissal claims and provide small business owners with the impetus they need to hire more staff," she said.

“The government has announced a review into the industrial relations system. The Small Business Fair Dismissal Code should be number one on that agenda.”

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