JobKeeper greed dents companies’ social licence to give health advice

Corporate Australia has a problem. In order to occupy the high moral ground needed to strongly encourage employees to vaccinate, it can’t afford to tarnish its reputational bona fides with displays of demonstrable avarice.

Enter the ‘CashKeeper’ aka JobKeeper dilemma.

The notion that corporate Australia has wrongly pocketed more than $25 billion in fiscal handouts (half of which was given to companies whose revenue rose, and the other half to companies where sales didn’t fall by the requisite amount) sits uncomfortably with the whole idea that businesses have earned a social licence – the sort of licence that one would expect of an institution that is now administering health and safety advice.

Companies are calling on their workers to do the right thing in the pandemic. But their moral credibility has been shredded.Credit:Joe Armao

Only a few large businesses have announced they require all or certain staff to be vaccinated to keep their jobs.

Chief among them is Telstra – a company that was mostly unaffected by COVID and did not receive any JobKeeper subsidies – and the two major airlines, Virgin Australia and Qantas, who were major recipients of the government support.

No one is suggesting the airlines, whose revenues have been demolished by the pandemic, were not worthy recipients.

But day after day the JobKeeper corporate shakedown – legal as it was – finds fresh momentum as additional undeserving recipients are uncovered.

Gerry Harvey has become the poster boy for JobKeeper greed, thanks to his steadfast refusal to explain the belated $6 million repayment by Harvey Norman and the fact that the company’s privately-owned franchisees pocketed $14 million in JobKeeper payments.

The retailer had until late last month resisted repaying any JobKeeper largesse, despite surging revenues.

Admittedly, the billionaire was a high-profile target, as was retail mogul Solomon Lew, whose company Premier also repaid only part of the JobKeeper subsidies it has received.

Just how much damage Harvey Norman sustained was underlined by this week’s Roy Morgan Risk Report, which found the company had joined the list of Australia’s 20 ‘Most Distrusted Brands’ – joining Amazon, Google, Twitter and Crown Resorts. The report’s author noted the public criticism around JobKeeper.

Harvey Norman had long resisted repaying any JobKeeper largesse, despite surging revenues.Credit:Paul Jones

All publicly listed companies that received subsidies have been outed because the corporate regulator mandated these be disclosed in their results.

So it seems the vast majority of those companies that have handed back the cash responded to the pressure provided by the forced transparency.

Of course there are numerous companies, particularly small businesses, that have legitimately received JobKeeper and for whom the payroll support was a lifeline.

And the government bears some responsibility for devising a fiscally slipshod policy that didn’t contain a provision for clawbacks from those that didn’t ultimately experience a COVID-related fall in revenue.

Some may view the business community’s support of vaccination as a way to protect profits. And they would be right. But businesses urging or mandating the jab are also ensuring the welfare of their staff.

But those companies that have unjustifiably benefited from the taxpayer-funded subsidies and limited the government’s ability to extend corporate welfare to those that really need it have sullied the reputation of business, and elevated the level of distrust of companies overall.

Which is particularly unfortunate as employees and the wider community are now being asked by businesses to heed their advice on vaccines.

Some may view the business community’s support of vaccination as a way to protect profits.

And they would be right. But businesses urging or mandating the jab are also ensuring the welfare of their staff.

As Telstra boss Andy Penn puts it so eloquently, his company wants to be “on the right side of history”.

The union movement is straddling a more precarious line. Unions have generally been supportive of vaccines and encouraged their members to get jabbed, but seem less enthusiastic about companies mandating vaccines.

At this stage, only a few companies have taken the hard line on vaccinations. But it will be difficult for firms with large teams of customer-facing staff to hold out longer-term once preferred vaccines are readily available to all.

Legal experts contend companies are within their rights to make vaccinations a condition of employment. Still, at this stage, most are only willing to use the carrot rather than the stick.

Moral credibility and general trustworthiness would help them in that quest.

The Market Recap newsletter is a wrap of the day’s trading. Get it each weekday afternoon.

Most Viewed in Business

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article