ALC lobbies for freight to receive JobKeeper subsidy

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has called upon the federal government to extend the JobKeeper Payment scheme to freight and logistics businesses as they are businesses providing essential services.

In a letter to Treasurer Josh Frydenburg, CEO of the ALC Kirk Coningham wrote that while freight and logistics businesses, including freight rail operators, have been deemed an essential service, they have missed out on government support for businesses.

“ALC is concerned that the blunt application of a reduced turnover test at 30 per cent for small and medium businesses and 50 percent for larger businesses to qualify for the JobKeeper Payment fails to adequately account for [freight and logistics businesses],” wrote Coningham.

While rail businesses and organisations welcomed the announcement of stimulus in March, some were concerned that the threshold would limit their ability to access the scheme and ensure workers who may need to be stood down are continued to be paid.

Coningham outlined that the particular circumstances of the freight sector means that stimulus is required.

“The reality is that most businesses within Australia’s freight and logistics sector operate on tight margins that flow from high fixed costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of freight vehicles, equipment and infrastructure.”

Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has hit Australia, freight businesses in the rail sector have been called upon to ensure that essential goods such as groceries continue to get on the shelves of supermarkets around Australia. Rail has continued to play a role as borders have been closed and in some areas has seen up to a 15 per cent increase in services.

Coningham wrote to Frydenburg that if businesses such as these were allowed to fail there would be significant consequences.

“If major freight transport businesses are forced to close due to financial pressures arising from COVID-19, there will be a range of deleterious consequences for the entire supply chain, and the ability of Australian households to access essential goods in a timely fashion could well be threatened. Moreover, there would also be significant consequences for Australian exporters, who rely on freight and logistics service providers to take their goods to market.”

The ALC recommended that essential service providers be eligible for JobKeeper Payments automatically, that if a threshold is imposed it should be set at 15 per cent for businesses providing essential services, and ensure that the first two JobKeeper payments are done quickly.

Moving freight by rail is easing Australia’s strained supply chains

Australia’s rail network is ensuring the nation’s supply chain stays intact.

People are working around-the-clock to ensure safe passage for 1,800-metre freight trains carrying essential products for all Australians.

John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcast on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.

“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.

Fullerton said the sector is crucial and rail freight movements on the ARTC network are up approximately 14 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked an unprecedented challenge for Australia’s freight and transport industry, with the country’s demand for critical supplies prompting a surge in rail freight,” he said.

“The rail freight sector has stepped up to ease Australia’s strained supply lines.”

The ARTC CEO leads a team of more than 1600 employees to manage and maintain 8500km of the national rail network.

ARTC employs more than 300 people at its Keswick headquarters in South Australia including network controllers who ensure coordinated passage for the country’s freight trains.

“Freight trains are playing a crucial role in Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – and our frontline teams are really part of a group of workers making sure the economy and society is able to keep functioning during these difficult times,” Fullerton said.

Moving freight has been highlighted by the government as an essential service. Fullerton says the sector has never been more important “which is putting a lot of responsibility on our shoulders”.

However, in collaboration with rail freight customers, government, and industry partners, Fullerton said it’s been wonderful to see teams rise to the challenge to keep Australia’s supply chain intact and the nation’s economy moving.

“We’re really proud to be able to keep freight trains moving and do our bit for Australia, but like other essential service providers, these are testing times for everyone and there’s still a long road ahead,” Fullerton said.

The company also has teams maintaining rail assets across the nation, including in the middle of the Nullarbor, to help move vital freight to its destination.

“There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but we’ll continue to work hard with our customers and partners to ensure supplies continue to ride the rails and get to where they need to be,” he said.

ARTC is continuing to implement strict hygiene protocols and preventative measures to protect the health and safety of staff and local communities in which it operates.