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Businesses should stay open where it is necessary and safe during current crisis

"It is being said that we are facing a health crisis and an economic crisis. Some say we are at war. But even in wartime we keep our industries crucial to our survival operating. And if we can substantially minimise health risks, we should not put people out of work," Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said today.

"Despite the most welcome JobKeeper Payments and other federal and state measures that will help businesses to stay in business and help them retain their employees, talk persists and businesses continue to worry that they could be caught up, perhaps unnecessarily, in any future lockdown.

"It is crucial that businesses in vital areas be kept operating throughout these difficult times and our state and federal leaders are right to avoid talking about total 'lockdowns'.

As well as the panic such talk can create, there are many unintended consequences associated with blanket closures that risk doing more harm than good.

"Those calling for lockdowns may not realise how interconnected our industries are. For example, if you shut down a relatively small facility manufacturing plastic wrap, you could stop parts of the food industry unable to safely seal fresh meat and vegetables. Disruptions at ports can have similar crippling impacts by potentially delaying imports of masks and equipment critical to fight the current pandemic.

"Business that can operate within tough health guidelines should not be forced to close or put off staff in any further escalation of restrictions. This includes activities that can be managed by working from home as well as key parts of the economy that can be run without infringing social distancing rules, even if those rules are made tougher. Industries such as metal production and fabrication, building and construction, glass, cement, paper and building products, are clear candidates to remain open as are many others.

"There should be no confusion that the new social distancing provisions where no more than two people can gather are aimed at curtailing social activity – not workplaces currently open and complying with stringent health guidelines.

"A consistent message from the PM has been that if you have a job and you can work your job is essential. To me, this acknowledges that it is nigh on impossible to define some businesses as essential and then close all other businesses without seriously risking supply and our ability to emerge from this crisis fit to carry on.

"In addition to the personal suffering of those whose lives and health are impacted by the virus, we are seeing massive economic dislocation and hardship unfold before our eyes. The pain and heartbreak this is causing is distressing. It is no less distressing whether the causes are related directly to the COVID-19 outbreak or to the sharp reduction in employment opportunities.

"Any actions taken need to be mindful of the costs and risks of continued activity and the costs and risks of forced closures. These include the human costs and risks when people put off are never reemployed. This always happens when unemployment jumps. Where it is safe to do so we need to avoid exposing people to this and similar risks," Mr Willox said.

Ai Group has also joined forces today with The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) in issuing a joint media release to urge that every effort is made to ensure Australian manufacturing businesses remain safe and can continue to supply the needs of Australian households, businesses, community organisations and health providers.

Media enquiries:
Tony Melville – 0419 190 347