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TAA driving industry change in response to COVID-19

Tourism Accommodation Australia National CEO, Michael Johnson.

In a special column for HM, Tourism Accommodation Australia National CEO, Michael Johnson, goes around the country to detail the success the organisation has achieved in response to the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In my 40 years in the hotel industry I have seen many national and international events disrupt our business. There was the pilots dispute, the recessions of the early 90s, 9/11, SARS, MERS and the Global Financial Crisis. But COVID-19 goes beyond all of these, in its size and magnitude and the long-lasting impact it will have on our industry.

Back in February, the Federal Government and then National Cabinet made unprecedented decisions to protect all Australians from COVID-19. These decisions were tough but necessary. But now the initial stages of the crisis are over, we find the road back is more of a patchwork. Decisions are being left up to individual states and some are moving faster than others.

This is where Tourism Accommodation Australia comes in. Our national network and connections to Governments at all levels are second to none. TAA and AHA’s state CEOs and Presidents have worked tirelessly since this crisis began with their various state and territory governments. Their efforts to open up hospitality have been critical to getting our accommodation hotels back open. Without somewhere to have a meal or a drink – no-one will travel.

AHA WA CEO, Bradley Woods

In Western Australia, for example, we have a two square metre rule due in part to the efforts of Bradley Woods and his team. We also have 115,000 hotel and hospitality employees in WA who are COVID-19 trained in preparation for the return to business.

In South Australia and the Northern Territory, we are now seeing borders re-open due to the work that Ian Horne and Alex Bruce have put in with their Ministers and state leaders.

Then there’s Tasmania, where Steve Old and his team have done so much in training and counselling – advising businesses how to get through the pandemic. And in Victoria, Paddy O’Sullivan and Dougal Hollis have been highly supportive in developing both closing checklists and more pertinent today, re-opening checklists for the many hotels that have been in hibernation.

In Queensland, we are advocating for Stage 2 – and hopefully Stage 3 – restrictions to be brought forward by two weeks – allowing Food and Beverage and functions to operate. And in the ACT, we are pushing the two square metre rule, direct Wellington-Canberra flights and having organised conferences and business events excluded from the defined rule for ‘gatherings’.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the efforts happening here in my home state of New South Wales, with John Whelan and the team in Macquarie Street working closely with Government Ministers, as well as the Treasurer and Deputy Premier.

On top of the state collaboration, we also have our national voice.

Martin Ferguson AM is Chair of our TAA National Board – and also actively involved in the tourism restart task force that reports directly into the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC), which goes back to the National Cabinet. This has supported and assisted National Cabinet in achieving the three-phase step to recovery.

We also have Stephen Ferguson, our National AHA CEO and myself of course.

Hotels are warning of imminent redundancies if JobKeeper cannot be extended.

We are currently working directly with Federal Treasury on the extension of JobKeeper.

This is critical for our industry and we are investing both funds and resources to ensure we achieve the results for members and the industry – and the exemption of FBT for three years to assist in our hotels driving revenues as we work to recovery.

Whilst all this activity is occurring, there has also been some phenomenal communication and engagement with members right across the country to ensure they have been in a position to make the necessary decisions to ensure their businesses survive and their employees are retained.

Employers can keep more workers on the books through new flexibility added to the Hospitality Award.

At the same time, our Industrial Relations and Legal team headed up by Phil Ryan has also been extremely busy.

TAA moved rapidly to negotiate agreed flexibilities with the United Workers Union in relation to the Hospitality Industry Award. This included the ability to reduce hours down to 60%, taking annual leave at half rate, and direction to take leave on 24 hours’ notice – these were negotiated, an application filed and hearing approved within 48 hours.

TAA and AHA were the first of any industry association to lead the way on this, with the Minister for IR, Christian Porter intervening in the case to support our application. These changes were developed and in place prior to JobKeeper, which has provided more widespread flexibilities, but the award changes remain relevant for those employers or employees not eligible for JobKeeper.

We have got a long road to recovery, but TAA and the AHA have the experience and resources to support our hotels on both a state and federal level. We understand and appreciate how tough this crisis is for our hotel owners and operators and we will continue to give them the support required to not just survive, but ultimately return to viable profitability.

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