“They’re going into aged care or … security work, which [doesn’t have] sick leave, so people are financially precarious.”
The Voices from the Frontline report found many of the workers did not know about the state government’s COVID-19 sick leave or testing payments, due to translation and messaging problems.
Others did not apply for JobKeeper due to fears their work before the pandemic would be scrutinised.
The top three industries in which the workers were employed were healthcare (20 per cent), manufacturing (13 per cent) and administration (13 per cent).
Megha Barot is a casual patient support worker at Austin Health’s Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, which has a COVID-19 ward. The mother of two, who moved from India to join her husband in Australia in 2011, was forced to stop working for five months without sick pay this year.
“I was at that time using public transportation, so it is very scary for me about the COVID,” she said.
Ms Barot said she was worried about passing the virus to her brother-in-law’s family, with whom her family shares a home, and meticulously cleaned herself every night until she stopped going into work. During the second lockdown she had to provide remote learning to her children.
“My family was so struggling at that time,” she said.
Ms Hussein said it was a myth that increased support payments were a disincentive to work.
She said many low-paid jobs could not be performed at home and some workers were concerned about contracting the virus or needed to home-school children.
“We’ve seen women losing jobs in this pandemic and that’s fundamentally [due to] the unpaid care that we don’t value in our society,” she said.
The report also found asylum seekers experienced extreme challenges due to their temporary visa status, lack of social safety net and perceived impacts on their long-term residency, driving a 5417 per cent increase in referrals to the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s support services.
“[The pandemic] has really exposed the fact that our social fabric had tears before, but it’s now been stretched and further torn by the virus,” Ms Hussein said.
“If we want to be in it together, then we need to make sure that safety net doesn’t have any holes.”
Chloe Booker is a city reporter for The Age.