THE Financial Services Council (FSC) has announced that life insurers will treat people making a claim related to the bushfires as vulnerable customers requiring additional support under the FSC Life Insurance Code of Practice (The Code).

FSC CEO Sally Loane said this announcement was in addition to the individual commitments already made by life insurers to support people affected by the bushfires.

“This means affected Australians will have their claims assessments and decisions prioritised and people may have access to advance payments to help alleviate financial hardship,” Ms Loane said.

“There are no general exclusions in life insurance which would stop an insurer from paying claims after a natural disaster like a bushfire. Australians can rely on their life insurance.

“The Code requires that all customers are treated with compassion, respect and empathy, but also recognises that some vulnerable people may have unique needs when making a claim on their life insurance, and if so, additional support will be provided,” Ms Loane said.

Last week the FSC launched a simple new service for Australians and their loved ones to use, if life insurance policy details have been lost or destroyed as a result of the bushfires. Detail of this service can be found on the FSC website.

Australia’s life insurers have also made a broad range of additional, individual commitments when handling claims related to the bushfires. While they vary from company to company, they include:

  • Prioritising bushfire related claims;
  • Waiving premiums for volunteer firefighters who are putting themselves at risk so they can maintain their vital cover while not earning in their usual job;
  • Waiving premiums for affected people;
  • Special leave days for staff who are emergency service volunteers who have been impacted;
  • Reducing the evidence requirements for related claims;
  • Offering mental health, Employment Assistance Program (EAP) and other support services to affected customers and their families;
  • Proactively contacting customers in affected postcodes;
  • Donating cash to fund raising organisations;
  • Allowing more time for customers to submit documents;
  • Contacting customers after hours; and
  • Providing immediate information and referrals for affected customers to government agencies.

To access a copy of the Code: https://www.fsc.org.au/resources/1695-life-insurance-code-of-practice-with-appendix.

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WHARFIES employed at DP World in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle have had approved leave cancelled by the huge global stevedoring operator, with the maritime union describing the move as an unlawful and aggressive attack on workers’ rights.

Dubai-based DP World Australia, which is the largest stevedore in Australia employing more than 1800 waterfront workers, notified workers that previously approved leave had been cancelled immediately, leaving workers unable to fulfil family obligations.

The company also banned workers from meeting with union representatives on company property, kicking union officials out of car-parks where they were waiting to meet members during work breaks.

The Maritime Union of Australia said workers were outraged by the unlawful attacks, saying the aggressive escalation was aimed at bullying workers into accepting management’s demands in a new workplace agreement.

“To strip wharfies of their approved leave at this time of year, when many had arranged approved leave to care for their kids or take family holidays, is an extraordinary attack on their own workforce by DP World,” MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said.

“The timing, in the middle of the summer school holidays, has clearly been chosen to cause maximum hardship for workers. All the company is doing though is solidifying the unity and resolve of wharfies nationally to stand up and fight back until they win their just demands off this global giant.”

Mr Smith said during this period of negotiation DP World had sought to intimidate workers using workers’ family and social benefits such as income protection.

"We’ve seen dockings, actual sackings, threats of mass sackings, leave cancelled, attacks on democratic rights, and cancellation of Christmas bonuses," he said

“This ‘take it or leave it’ stuff might work for DP World elsewhere in their global operations, but wharfies will fight hard to defend against the threats and intimidation of this multinational stevedore,” Mr Smith said.

“Rather than backing down, workers will be responding to this latest attack with a fresh round of industrial action, including strikes, rolling stoppages during each shift, and the imposition of a range of work bans.

“MUA members are standing firm in their desire to finalise a new workplace agreement, but it must be one that addresses the deeply important job security issue, as well as locking in vital workplace conditions but that can’t occur while DP World management remains intent on launching aggressive attacks on Australian wharfies.”

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THE Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, the nations’ largest grassroots advocacy group representing taxpayers, came out swinging against the $15 million the Sydney Swans just received from the Federal Government for new facilities. 

“Football is one of the great Australian pastimes. But because it is so popular, sports teams are the last people in need of government handouts,” ATA policy director, Emilie Dye said. “If anyone could afford to pay for their own facilities it is the Sydney Swans.

“The Swans made a profit for the last eight years with crowds averaging over 30,000. If the Swans can afford to bring players like 'Buddy' Franklin over for $10 million, building their own facilities shouldn’t bust their budget. The government is robbing the taxpayer to pay the rich.

“Australia’s budget surplus has dropped due to bushfires, but instead of tightening their belts pollies are dropping taxpayer money into key electorates. Throwing money at a major sports team with tens of thousands of fans is no different," Ms Dye said.

“The fans of the Greater Western Sydney Giants can’t be happy to see their hard-earned tax dollars filling the coffers of the Swans. Politicians in Canberra are yet again arbitrarily picking winners and losers. And per usual the taxpayer loses and power-hungry pollies win.” 

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THE Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan today announced he has extended a package of tax assistance for people impacted by the recent devastating bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania as part of the whole-of-government response to the disaster.

Approximately 3.5 million businesses, individuals, and self-managed superannuation funds in impacted local government areas will now have until May 28, 2020, to lodge and pay business activity statements and income tax returns.

Mr Jordan said he hoped the additional time – on top of the two-month extension already granted – would give people the breathing space they need to recover and start to rebuild.

“If you’ve been impacted by these bushfires, we don't want you to be concerned about your tax affairs," Mr Jordan said. "Now is the time for you, your family and your community. We'll help you sort out your tax affairs later.”

Additionally, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is fast tracking any refunds that are due to taxpayers in the impacted regions.

“If you run a business and you’re expecting a refund – on, for example, as a result of GST credits due to large purchases to replace stock – I encourage you to try to lodge or ask your tax professional to lodge your activity statements on your behalf. Refunds generated by lodging may provide some helpful temporary cash flow relief during these difficult times,” Mr Jordan said.

The ATO will also be remitting any interest and penalties applied to tax debts since the commencement of the bushfires that have been applied to accounts of individuals and businesses located in impacted regions.

Mr Jordan said taxpayers or their agents in these areas do not need to apply for a deferral, a faster refund, or remission of interest or penalties. This will be done by the ATO automatically.

For people who have had documents destroyed by the bushfires, the ATO is able to assist by re-issuing documents it has on hand.

For those taxpayers in affected areas with a tax debt or outstanding obligation, the ATO will not initiate debt recovery action until at least May 28, 2020. Taxpayers can also request payment arrangements for outstanding debts. The ATO will also consider releasing individuals and businesses from income tax and fringe benefits tax debts if they are experiencing serious hardship.

Affected taxpayers are also able to vary their income tax instalments to nil without penalties. This also applies if taxpayers end up in a tax payable situation for that quarter once they have lodged their tax return.

The ATO recognises the ongoing effects of this disaster, such as cash flow problems for business owners who have suffered reduced trade. This includes businesses that are not located in the identified regions.

“If you’ve been affected by this disaster but your postcode is not currently in the identified list, phone our Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218 for tailored help," he said.

“It’s important to note that we recognise everyone’s situation is different. We understand there may be situations where additional support or extensions may be required beyond the automatic deferrals that we’ve announced. We’re standing by, ready to work with people who have been impacted on a case-by-case basis and I have made it clear to my staff that I expect them to be flexible, reasonable and pragmatic when considering each request on its merits,” Mr Jordan said.

The ATO will continue to assess the impact of the bushfires and will keep the community informed as it receives more information on additional impacted postcodes and available support.

This tax assistance currently applies to multiple local government areas in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. A complete list is available on our website at ato.gov.au/NaturalDisasters

Employers are reminded that they still need to meet their ongoing super guarantee obligations for their employees. Automatic deferrals do not apply to large pay as you go withholders however large withholders can contact us for assistance with their tax obligations if required.

Any member of the community impacted by disaster and needing assistance or anyone suffering financial hardship is encouraged to talk to their tax or BAS agent or contact the ATO on 1800 806 218, when they are ready, to discuss their situation.

More information about assistance available is at ato.gov.au/NaturalDisasters including:

  • A list of impacted local government areas
  • Lodgment and payment deferrals
  • Faster processing of refunds
  • Damaged or destroyed property
  • Reconstructing your tax records
  • Fuel tax credits for individuals, businesses and others
  • Donations to assist disaster victims
  • Supporting your wellbeing, and
  • Other support available.

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THE EXCLUSIVE provider of towage services at the Port of Gladstone has been accused by the Maritime Workers Union of using sham contracting to undermine wages, conditions and safety after contracting out a tug delivery job traditionally undertaken by local workers.

Local maritime workers are this morning protesting outside the Gladstone office of multinational Smit Lamnalco, following revelations that the work traditionally carried out by direct employees had instead been outsourced to a business using half the number of crew members and paying them 60 percent less.

The Maritime Union of Australia accused Smit Lamnalco, which was last year awarded a five year contract to operate all towage services at the port, of using sham contracting arrangements to undermine the jobs of local workers.

“Multinational towage operator Smit Lamnalco, which operates more than 180 vessels in 30 countries, has brought sham contracting arrangements to Gladstone, undermining the wages, conditions, and safety of local maritime workers,” MUA Queensland Branch deputy secretary Jason Miners said.

“The decision to contract out this tug delivery job — work traditionally done by local employees — to a company using half the number of crew members and paying them just 40 per cent of the wages is a shocking attack on local workers and threatens safety standards at the port.

“Smit Lamnalco claimed it supported local workers when it was seeking the exclusive contract to provide towage services at the Port of Gladstone, but the decision to use a shadowy arrangement to avoid paying decent rates of pay or adhere to appropriate safety standards shows the exact opposite.

“Instead, the company has undertaken blatant adverse action against local workers, avoiding the conditions negotiated in good faith into a workplace agreement, without any kind of consultation process," Mr Miners said.

“If Smit Lamnalco can get away with this sham arrangement it will open the floodgates for any business wanting to avoid wages, conditions, and safety standards put in place following good faith bargaining.

“Shame contracting does not belong in Gladstone, which is why these workers are seeking the support of their local community for their principled stand against this cancerous practice.”

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