‘Serious problems’: Business furious over Victorian industry shutdowns

Business leaders are seeking an urgent fix to Victorian rules that have sparked anger and chaos among employers trying to deal with orders to shut down or curtail their operations.

Industry chiefs are pushing for intervention by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Treasurer Tim Pallas to clarify the new pandemic restrictions in order to prevent essential services being closed.

Business groups are furious about the extent of Victoria’s lockdown restrictions.Credit:Wayne Taylor

"We are hours before lockdown and most businesses are none the wiser about what they can or can't do," said one industry head.

Employers were taken by surprise by the scale of the Victorian economic closures announced on Sunday and are warning that some of the government's orders could be impossible to meet.

Claiming there was "almost zero consultation" on the changes, the business leaders took their concerns to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in a series of phone hook-ups on Tuesday night to warn of the economic damage.

After a flurry of phone calls, the Business Council of Australia secured a commitment from Mr Pallas to hold a meeting.

The Victorian experience has frustrated business groups accustomed to regular phone hook-ups with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her ministers to ensure consultation on shutdowns.

While some of the peak business groups were told of the tough Victorian measures planned last weekend, the actual shutdowns went further than they were expecting and took them by surprise.

Companies such as Coles and Woolworths have serious concerns about the restrictions on warehousing and logistics, at a time when Mr Andrews is warning against panic buying.

Mr Frydenberg held phone hook-ups on Tuesday night with about 85 chief executives from the BCA, at least two dozen leaders from the Australian Industry Group and more than 500 members from the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

BCA chief Jennifer Westacott said business and government must do everything possible to avoid "serious unintended consequences" from the economic closures.

"There are serious problems with current restrictions in Victoria and we stand ready to work with governments to keep Australians safe, save jobs and ensure people can access the products they need," Ms Westacott said.

"We have to urgently fix supply chain issues at distribution centres. These restrictions must be lifted today because they do not recognise that supply chains operate nationwide. The reduction in capacity by 33 per cent at distribution centres along with the decrease in staffing numbers is a major concern."

"The rules need to be consistent and fit for purpose across supply chains to avoid missing links that see businesses who are technically allowed to keep employing forced to shutdown," Ms Westacott said.

"For the construction industry the current rules are simply not viable, they could lead to projects stalling and potentially substantial job losses. The industry needs flexibility on workplace staffing limits to protect the 1.2 million tradies and other workers who rely on the sector for a job."

"We need high level co-operation between government and businesses to work through obstacles, keep people safe and to protect nationally significant supply chains."

Others agreed with those assessments but declined to comment on the record. In warehousing, for instance, business is anxious about how to cut staff by one third without interrupting the supply of food.

One business industry source told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that Victoria Police had visited a popular fast food chain on Monday night to query why it remained open past the 8pm curfew.

The national chain believes it should be able to remain open under the rule announced by Mr Andrews and to feed frontline workers, such as nurses, however it has not been able to gain any confirmation of its trading hours.

Industry bodies and business groups were swamped with complaints that the state government-run Business Victoria website was down for most of the morning when thousands of bosses and workers attempted to download worker permits.

One business owner reported spending almost four hours on hold to the Business Victoria helpline to query the restriction around their ability to remain open.

Property maintenance companies have also complained of "grey areas" in the restrictions for tradesmen who are in the middle of home renovations that do not meet the "emergency" criteria.

Business owners' completion of the projects remain essential to enable the property owner or tenant to have a functioning kitchen and bathroom especially given the lock down.

Dog washing services have been told they cannot continue under the restrictions but believe they should be able to service elderly and disabled clients on the grounds of animal welfare.

Under restrictions on home services, cleaning and lawn mowing businesses have been banned from operating in residential homes.

The services say they are able to operate with minimum to no customer interaction and have electronic billing processes.

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