BY JULIETTE CAPOMOLLA
Australian workers who are off the books may have reaped the benefits of tax-avoidance in financial years gone by, but they have joined more than one million casual employees to be denied JobKeeper - and there is nothing they can do about it.
The Federal Government’s $130 billion JobKeeper stimulus package will be rolled out in May.
It will hand full-time and part-time workers, as well as casual workers who have been on a company's books for a minimum of 12 months, fortnightly $1500 payments for six months.
The government estimates six million Australians will receive this wage subsidy, but many others will miss out, some because they were not recorded as employees to help their companies and themselves avoid paying tax.
Swinburne University student and waiter Joel Southcott is one of them.
“Before COVID-19 my employment was extremely stable and I enjoyed going to work,” Mr Southcott said.
“Since I’m paid under the table, I’m technically not employed at my workplace.”
His workplace, which he did not wish to disclose, is now temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
While Mr Southcott is checking his eligibility for Centrelink, he would have been eligible for JobKeeper had his employer paid him legally.
“[My] workplace makes it hard to change from cash-in-hand to being recorded on the books,” he said.
“It has been challenging as the Centrelink questions are very black and white and my situation is shades of grey because the way I’m paid is technically illegal.”
In a statement provided to MOJO News, the Treasury directed “employees who are concerned that they might be disadvantaged because their employers [are] engaging in the black economy [to] raise these concerns with the Tax Integrity Centre”.
The Treasury reiterated it was not illegal to pay an employee cash-in-hand, as long as the appropriate procedure is followed.
If an employee is being paid cash-in-hand, their employer may have sufficient records to prove the employee is eligible for JobKeeper.
As cafes, restaurants and shops closed across the city due to COVID-19, many employees found themselves in a tenuous financial situation.
Cafe worker Lucy Callahan was among them.
“I was a casual [employee], working on average four days a week, for about five to six hours. Super consistent, same roster more or less, for the year I’ve been there,” Ms Callahan said.
“I have no income now because it’s closed.”
Despite being left unemployed, Ms Callahan will not be receiving JobKeeper as she does not meet the eligibility criteria.
“I should be [eligible] for JobKeeper but I’m not on the books,” she said.
Charted Accountants Australia and New Zealand senior tax advocate Susan Franks said there has always been a risk working in the black economy, even more so now, due to COVID-19.
“Most people realise that participating in the black economy makes it harder for the government to provide health, education, transport and social services to the community,” Ms Franks said.
“COVID-19 has highlighted how important the information that is in the tax system is in helping governments evaluate and deliver policy responses.”
Ms Franks said the vulnerabilities faced by those employed in the black economy extended well beyond not being able to receive wage subsidy JobKeeper.
“People...risk being underpaid, not receiving superannuation, working in unsafe and dangerous conditions and not having access to WorkCover,” she said.
“The black economy is particularly prevalent in industries that typically employ young people, such as in hospitality.”