Businesses are rushing to sign up to the federal government’s $130 billion plan to subsidise wages during the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost 60,000 businesses had signed up for the scheme within hours of it being announced on Monday afternoon.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg expects the plan will help six million Australian workers.
“Australia’s never seen income support like this,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
Employees will receive a flat-rate payment of $1500 per fortnight through their employers in a bid to lessen the economic blow caused by the virus.
It applies to full and part-time workers, sole traders, as well as casuals who have been on the books for at least 12 months.
The subsidies will last for six months.
Mr Frydenberg said while there was more financial help on the way, none of it would match Monday’s announcement in dollars.
He said it would take years to pay off the debt generated as a result, but the government had to do what was needed.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government had committed the equivalent of 16.4 per cent of Australia’s GDP to keeping the economy on deck.
“It’s an eye watering amount … It is a very, very significant investment,” Senator Cormann said.
Wage subsidies will flow to businesses in the first week of May, with workers stood down since March 1 able to access backdated payments.
New Zealanders on temporary working 444 visas and migrants eligible for welfare are also included.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said some countries would face economic collapse or hollowing out in coming months as the disease spreads globally.
“In the very worst of circumstances, we could see countries themselves fall into chaos – this will not be Australia,” he said.
Parliament could sit as early as next week to pass legislation related to the new JobKeeper payment, with Labor likely to back the overall package, which unions and business groups support.
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the subsidies were a fair way of making sure employees stayed connected to employers during the crisis.
“This huge package will keep people in jobs and vitally, make sure Australia is ready to rebuild quickly once this challenge passes,” she said.
“We must safeguard as many jobs as we can to prevent long periods of joblessness and poverty.”
The $1500 per fortnight payment amounts to about 70 per cent of the median wage.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said while the decision was welcome, the amount may not be enough.
“We believe that allowing this amount to increase up to the median wage of $1375 a week is what is needed.”
Ms McManus also raised concerns for casuals who had worked for the same employer for less than 12 months and who were not covered by the scheme.