Local News

Queues at the Yamba Centerlink office have been consistently long. Image: Geoff Helisma

Yamba clubs and pubs invest in their staff

“We’ve got to be positive; and when you’re positive you normally come out the other side.”

While the government prepares to make its first monthly JobKeeper scheme payments during the first week of May, businesses have been scrambling to meet their side of the bargain – they face the onerous task of finding money to pay their employees and cover business overheads.

However, optimism is high among some of the larger tourism-related businesses in Yamba; the Independent spoke with six business owners and/or club managers.

Mark Mitchell,who operates three businesses – Blue Dolphin Holiday Resort, Angourie Resort and Valley Earthmoving – put it this way: “Everybody who can be should bepositive, because if we all get on the negative road, geez…

“We’ve got to be positive; and when you’re positive you normally come out the other side.”

In fact, Mr Mitchell says JobKeeper is “sort of a massive saviour”.

“It enables businesses to kick things along [and] it gives an impetus that when we come out the other side,we’ll be quite well positioned.”

He said he thought the government had done a “brilliant job and had saved millions of jobs around Australia” by implementing the scheme through the taxation system.

In the meantime, he said he was taking the opportunity to “retrain staff, do some maintenance throughout the resorts and some building work.”

“We’re doing everything we can for the people we’ve kept on JobKeeper, to make them viable employees so they’re not just here painting rocks; we’re having a full-on massive spring clean,” he said.

Mr Mitchell was confident that any short term pain covering monthly wages and overheads bills would be worth it.

“Nobody in their wildest dreams would have expected this [pandemic] to happen,” he said.

“People have put their whole lives into their businesses.

“I will be placing in a lot of money, which will be taken off my house to run the businesses and keep people employed, with the knowledge it will be coming back [from the government].”

Pacific Hotel proprietor Jack McIntosh said he had halved the rents for his tenants in the shops complex on the eastern side of post office.

“It’s very hard on them,” he said.

“We’ve tried to maintain all of our staff, which is good for them, and it’s good for us because we’re saving on wages.

“Income is down dramatically, but everybody knows we can’t do anything about that.”

He said media reports about bottle shops trading at 200 to 300 per cent above normal was “certainly not the case locally”.

He said the lockdown had proffered “a great realisation for businesses in town, to realise how many tourists we have here in the off season”.

“We do depend a bit more on tourism than I would have anticipated,” he said.

“We know it’s been the school holidays– but those periods when holidays are not around, I believe there are a lot more tourists here than I would have ever expected before.”

While Mr McIntosh feared the worst if the pandemic restrictions go longer than six months, he was “confident with the way the restrictions have been put inplace and that they are working, particularly when you look at other countries”.

“I think we are doing a magnificent job,” he said.

Yamba Golf Club’s general manager, Luke Stephenson, said his club was “lucky” that golf was able to continue while the club itself was closed.

“The income that we are receiving from golf, obviously under strict social distancing laws, is allowing us to cover our fixed costs while we are closed,” he said.

“Our staff are on JobKeeper and …the club is honouring entitlements, [so] if our fulltime and part time staff want to take advantage of those, they can top-up [their pay] using their entitlements.”

Yamba Shores Tavern owner, Matt Muir, said the JobKeeper scheme enabled the tavern to retain much of its staff.

He said retaining staff who hadparticular skills was a strong motivator.

“There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes in licensed premises that require technical skills,” Mr Muir said, “like gaming knowledge [for example] and there’s a lot of legislation that needs to be understood.

“We were concerned that a lot of that knowledge base … may find alternative employment and, when it’s time for us to reopen, that knowledge could be lost.

“Jobkeeper not only keeps money coming in through the doors for those people, it keeps them connected to us, which is a huge benefit.”

He said there had been an initial spike in alcohol sales “in late March” at the bottle shop; however, they had “gradually tapered off”.

He said it was “extremely tough to carry the wages [bill] during this period”.

Meanwhile, he said most of his staff were enjoying doing different jobs at the tavern, such as maintenance and jobs normally done by contractors.

“The government supports them, we’re supporting them and they’re supporting us … [JobKeeper’s] working well for us,” he said.

Yamba Bowling Club’s manager, Phil Boughton, said his club’s board had made an extraordinary decision before the shutdown.

“It made a commitment: if the club has to close they would continue to employ casual staff for a period of a month at the same pay as JobSeeker,paid weekly,” he said.

“And permanent part time staff got double JobSeeker for a month – so they knew they had a month’s income regardless if the club was open or not.

“It was amassive investment by the board at a time when JobKeeper didn’t exist.

“At this stage, with no income and no customers, we are using a reduced number of hours [for staff on JobKeeper] to do work around the club and plan for our reopening.”

Yamba Laundry proprietor Melinda Price said she had retained five staff on JobKeeper.

Despite“basically having to come up with $15,000 to keep them employed” she said.

“If the staff are entitled to [JobKeeper], then it’s up to me to facilitate it.

“The good thing is once the business opens up again I will have staff here – and it creates a good rapport between me and the staff: I’m still paying them and I know they’ll be ready when we come back.”