With Metropolitan Melbourne having now entered ‘Step Two’ of the Victorian Government’s Roadmap to Recovery, further progress in 'Steps' will bring a reduction in the level of restrictions from ‘Closed’ to ‘Restricted’, and the return to the workplace for many businesses including construction, warehousing, and education.
While many sectors such as hospitality, retail and tourism operators will not have had their level of restriction eased with Step Two, it is still vital for all businesses to begin to prepare for reopening.
It is critical for every business in Victoria to know what precautions are mandatory moving forward and help provide a COVID-safe environment for all staff, patrons, and visitors.
This is the beginning of a new era for business in Australia, not just Victoria. It is unlikely there will be a more critical time in our living history to prepare your business for its safety and longevity into the future.
All of us must embrace the new ‘COVID normal’ and get back to business as soon as possible and begin the recovery from what has been a devastating period of history for all of us.
For the most recent information, services and guides regarding the reopening of your business, visit the COVID-19 Business Restart Services page of the VCCI website.
Preparing to Reopen
Whether your business is currently ‘Closed’, ‘Heavily Restricted’ or ‘Open with a COVIDSafe Plan’, every business needs to be as prepared as possible for the future and have all foreseeable measures in place to ensure a safe environment for staff and visitors.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) has prepared the Business Restart Checklist and Business Restart Guide which are suitable for businesses across all industries and of all sizes. Whether you are a butcher in Brighton or a builder in Bendigo, our resources will can help your businesses prepare for reopening, including:
- Management of critical actions
- Site preparation
- Crisis communication
- Change management
- Employee restart processes
- Action on suspected cases of COVID-19
- Plus, many more
Our Business Restart Guide can be purchased in two forms: generic or customised. Email or call us to discuss which option is best for you and your business.
The Business Restart Checklist (exclusively for members) is a tool that will put you on the right path to safely reopening your business, and will also ensure you meet the criteria set out by the Federal and State governments to create a COVIDSafe environment.
There are two versions of this checklist - non-editable and editable - for you to customise based on your business needs.
(Members: Please log in before downloading)
In conjunction with the checklist, your business can contact the Victorian Chamber’s Health Safety and Wellbeing consulting services team to answer any specific questions regarding your situation and ensure you have the most up-to-date industry advice.
For more information on our Health, Safety and Wellbeing consulting services contact 03 8662 5196 or email: email@example.com.
Health, Safety and COVIDSafe Plans
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to have a lasting impact on the health and safety standards in all workplaces in the future. While the novel coronavirus will hopefully one day disappear, all businesses must be responsible for their working environments and ensure their staff are protected if it persists.
Before reopening your business, each Permitted Work Premises in Metropolitan Melbourne (as determined by the State Government) must complete a COVIDSafe Plan prior to resuming operations.
Only businesses with fewer than five staff in the workplace are exempt from needing to complete a COVIDSafe plan. However, WorkSafe Victoria requires all businesses to have a COVIDSafe Plan and the VCCI and the Victorian Government strongly recommends that you complete one and action it to ensure a safe workplace.
Businesses classified as an abattoir or a meat processing facility (including seafood and poultry) must complete a High-Risk COVIDSafe Plan regardless of where in Victoria your operations are based.
The COVIDSafe guide and template will help you:
- Understand your responsibilities and requirements
- Prepare your COVIDSafe plan
- Keep your COVIDSafe plan updated and relevant
- Distribute your COVIDSafe plan to staff and stakeholders
You can download the COVIDSafe Plan template and COVIDSafe Plan factsheet below.
(Members: Please log in before downloading)
More information on the COVIDSafe Plans can be found on the Business Victoria website.
Business Victoria is also offering free accredited Infection Control Training to all Victorian businesses to help restrict the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. If you or your business are unsure at any stage while creating your COVIDSafe Plan, you can contact VCCI’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing (HSW) team for guidance.
Please contact the HSW team by phone on 03 8662 5196 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the HSW team and the services they can offer your business, visit our Health, Safety and Wellbeing page.
Staff and Work Arrangements
Returning to work, while exciting for many, is likely to create unique issues for many businesses preparing to reopen. Being prepared and knowing how to deal with these issues is going to be vital for a productive transition into the new ‘COVID normal’.
Reopening the business’ doors will mean a change in routine and lifestyle that many of us have become accustomed to during 2020, and not everyone will be so eager to get back to the workplace.
For example, your business may encounter a situation where a staff member is not able to follow the new safety measures in place, or business technology is not able to adapt to the pace of new operations.
There is a myriad of issues businesses must consider about re-engaging their staff in preparation to return to the workplace, including:
Staff will need to be notified of potential start-dates as soon as possible and you should ensure reasonable notice is provided.
While most workers are likely to be keen to start as soon as possible, many will need time to prepare their new routine and prepare both financially and emotionally prepare to enter a new ‘COVID normal’.
Return dates should also be reflected in your COVIDSafe plan and should have the flexibility to change in the event of unforeseen circumstances (another outbreak etc.).
Changes in duties or location
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit thousands of businesses hard, and many will need to move or reduce in size to endure. Many businesses have also taken the shutdown as an opportunity to optimise floorplans, strategies, and procedures.
For example, those in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors who have face-to-face contact with the public will greatly need to change the way they operate and perform their duties.
When requiring staff to change duties, hours of work or locations, businesses may need to consider how to transition staff and be mindful of any limitations which may prevent them from doing so, or which may require them to follow a consultation process.
Health and safety requirements
As part of operating in the new ‘COVID normal’, you should inform your staff in advance if their roles are altered in any way to comply with new health and safety protocols. For instance, the State Government has already made it clear that the wearing of compulsory PPE (including face-coverings) in the workplace and in public will be in place for many months to come.
Every business will need to be clear and heard when addressing their staff to ensure new safety standards are met and in accordance with the businesses COVIDSafe Plan and government laws that were not in effect prior to closure.
Thousands of Victorians have struggled during lockdown, as shown by the dramatic increase to helplines and mental health support networks. It is important for businesses to acknowledge that the physical and mental health of all staff is paramount and should be considered when reopening.
Returning to work may result in a lot of change for staff, and much of that change can cause conflict. These conversations can be difficult to have with staff as it will mean starting fresh and saying goodbye to the job they knew.
Help and advice
Productive workplace relations, coupled with positive workplace relationships, will be key to the recovery for many Victorian businesses in the ‘new normal’. The VCCI’s Workplace Relations team and Advice Line are available to help your business with any issues your business encounters.
You may also encounter a situation personally where you are unable to return to work and comply with the standards put in place by your workplace.
Whatever your situation, the VCCI’s Workplace Relations team are experts with a wealth of experience and are here to assist you.
You can contact the team via the Workplace Relations Advice Line on 03 8662 5222. You can also visit our Human Resources and Workplace Relations page for more information on the services the team offer.
Grants and Financial Support
Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal and State Governments have put forward several grants, support packages and discounts to help businesses endure lockdown.
While most of the business community have jumped on benefits such as JobKeeper, many of the government’s offerings have been underutilised thus far. Before reopening your doors, make sure you have taken advantage of all that you are entitled to as a Victorian business.
Be aware of when these offers end so you can prepare you balance sheets for the future.
The JobKeeper scheme has been a lifesaver for thousands of businesses across Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it has helped a lot of people, it does have an end date.
The Federal Government’s JobKeeper program has been extended until 28 March of 2021. However, the amounts being paid will be reduced as of 28 September.
With a current payment of $1,500 per fortnight, the maximum rate offered from 28 September will be $1,200 for ‘Tier 1’ businesses. Entitlement to the ‘Tier 1’ or ‘Tier 2’ rate is based on whether an individual meets an 80-hour threshold.
From 4 January, the amount of JobKeeper will reduce again to $1,000 per fortnight.
For more information on the JobKeeper program and how it affects you and your business, visit the ATO’s website here.
Business Resilience Package
What was heralded as the “biggest package of business support” in Victorian history, the Business Resilience Package was announced on 13 September by Premier Daniel Andrews in an effort to see businesses survive the prolonged shutdown in Victoria.
To the tune of $3 billion, the package includes a third increase to the Business Support Fund with grants of up to $20,000 for small and medium-sized businesses, a $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund, another $100 million for a Sole Trader Support Fund as well as $1.7 billion in deferred tax support.
It is important to note that applications for the cash grants offered as part of the Business Support Fund, closes at 11:59pm on 23 November.
As the businesses become increasingly reliant on digital tools and sales, included in this package is a $20 million voucher program designed to help sole traders and small businesses build their digital capability.
For more information on this grant and if your business can access any of the supports in it, visit the Business Victoria website here.
Sole Trader Support Fund
While many of the grants issued by the State and Federal governments were targeted towards small to large businesses, sole traders were somewhat left out. Hence, the introduction of the Sole Trader Support Fund.
As part of this fund, eligible sole traders can be given a $3,000 grant to help put towards their recovery out of lockdown. It is important to acknowledge that there are stringent criteria that need to be met to qualify, including:
- be a non-employing business
- operate from a commercial premise
- be a current participant in the JobKeeper scheme
- operate in an industry sector that has been heavily restricted or closed
- have not received a BSFe grant
To find out if you qualify for this grant, or for more information, visit the Business Victoria website here.
Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy
While keeping an eye on the future, the Federal Government created the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy which allows eligible employers to receive a 50 per cent subsidy for an eligible apprentice or trainee’s wage.
While this subsidy was only available to small businesses, it was extended in July to allow medium-sized businesses with up to 199 staff. Subsidies are also available to an employer who rehires an apprentice that was dismissed to due to the business restrictions and lockdown.
While claims from small businesses are currently open, claims from medium-sized businesses will open from 1 October and will be available until 30 June 2021.
For more information on this subsidy and whether your business qualifies, speak to Apprenticeship Support Australia who will be able to advise on your best course of action.
While managing to get through lockdown and keeping a business operational throughout the pandemic will be a great achievement for any Victorian business, we all must look to the future and ensure that we don’t only recover, but prosper and grow in the new ‘COVID-normal’ world.
The Victorian Chamber has been proud to advocate for Victorian businesses and our members during the lockdown and will continue to do so as the state makes a recovery. While we welcomed many of the grants and supports brought forward by government, we have heard our members and know there is much more that still needs to be done.
The VCCI will continue to work with Victorian businesses and provide the tools, resources, support, and training needed to prosper into the future.
Business recovery and resilience mentoring
The Victorian Chamber has partnered with the Victorian Government to present a mentoring program to help small businesses navigate the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions.
In this program, small business owners can receive one-one-one mentoring sessions with an experienced professional who will help make informed decisions about the future of their business.
The program will offer detailed advice on:
- Business recovery
- Market transformation
- Digital literacy and engagement
- Market and supply chain diversification
- Reskilling and retraining
For more information on this program and how to enroll, visit the our dedicated page, or email BusinessMentoring@victorianchamber.com.au.
Help and Assistance
The Victorian Chamber is here to help you, your business, and your staff as you plan your return to work.
For more information about the COVID-19 resources available to your business, visit our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Resources for Business page. For specific information about returning to work, visit our Reopen, Restart and Recovery page.
For information and assistance on any aspect of your employment obligations, our Workplace Relations Advice Line can help. Call 03 8662 5222 to speak to one of our experience staff.
If you have any concerns or queries about your COVIDSafe plan or any health and safety concerns, speak to our HSW team on 03 8662 5196 or email email@example.com.
For more information on the Victorian Chamber’s advocacy work and current campaigns, along with submissions and taskforces, visit the Policy and Advocacy section of the VCCI website here. If you have any questions or would like to be involved in our advocacy work, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.