Heavy burden for businesses

Hoa Tran restaurant owner Andy Dang is desparate for staff. 228680_04 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

With some irony, a new Covid business relief package was announced on 28 July – the day after Victoria’s fifth lockdown eased.

The joint federal-state $400 million package provided belated relief for gyms – one of 24 industries eligible for $5000 grants.

Dandenong Genesis Health & Fitness owner Sean Whitaker welcomed the specific help, including a new $80 million commercial tenancy relief scheme.

During lockdowns, the gym has zero revenue – all memberships are on hold. Yet it still has an $35,000 monthly lease to pay.

“It’s a positive announcement going forward,” Mr Whitaker said of the rent relief.

“But the problem was it was only effective from the day it was announced.

“We haven’t been trading five of the past eight weeks.”

Prior to the 28 July announcement, the business received a $4800 grant for the latest lockdown.

“For our staff, we have had no option but to stand them down. They can only apply for Centrelink payments.”

He also was relieved that his business was allowed to re-open on 28 July after an industry-wide campaign.

For the past 16 months of lockdowns, gyms were directed to keep shut for the longest under Victorian Chief Health Officer restrictions.

“It was good to see our industry recognised in line with other industries and not being left on the outer again.”

Mr Whitaker had said rent was one of the gym’s biggest expenses under lockdown.

Under the new commercial tenancy scheme, landlords will be required to waive and defer portions of rent inline with the businesses’ reduction in turnover.

After the fifth state lockdown, Springvale restaurant owner Andy Dang said half of his staff had quit for more stable jobs such as retail and factory work.

They had got sick of being continually stood down due to the snap lockdowns, Mr Dang said.

“I can’t re-open to full capacity because I’ve got a massive shortage of staff.

“There’s no one asking for a job.”

Despite an uncertain outlook, his restaurant Hoa Tran was surviving for now. That was thanks to loyal clientele built over the past 21 years, Mr Dang says.

Every lockdown chews into the finances however, with about 20 per cent of his losses covered by government relief.

Fledgling cafes and restaurants will be the first to collapse, he said.

Mr Dang said an owner of two takeaways in Southland shopping centre was closing down, in the face of $500,000 in rent arrears.

“I know we’ve got to look after the public’s health. But as we save lives, we kill livelihoods.”