COVID-19

Calls to get CBD workers back

The city is lagging behind other state capitals with the lowest level of post-pandemic CBD foot traffic.Small Business Australia used mobile phone GPS information and Australian Bureau of Statistics data to track foot traffic in Melbourne.It showed during the city’s five-day lockdown foot traffic was down by about 70 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, with just 270,000 people in the city each day.Business groups say the state’s recent five-day lockdown and mandatory indoor mask rule has quashed confidence and many are reluctant to get a majority of workers back anytime soon. The AFL’s Docklands headquarters has no staff in the office and confirmed they won’t be making any changes until further state government announcements are made. Some of Melbourne’s largest corporates including Medibank and ANZ are operating at between five to 10 per cent of staff returned. Medibank has about 1200 staff and just 60 workers back, while ANZ has more than 6500 staff and only about 650 are back. National Australia Bank has 34,000 employees and last July revealed it had mothballed its Docklands offices at 700 and 800 Bourke Street but was unable to disclose how many workers were back in the office. Small Business Australia’s executive director Bill Lang said mandatory masks and the snap lockdown had hindered getting workers back. “The compulsory need to wear masks inside workplaces (is) a major deterrent for many workers wanting to come back into the office,” he said.“The City of Melbourne continues to suffer the greatest decline of any local government area in Australia.” Under existing rules the state government permits only up to 50 per cent of public and private workers being back in the office. An update is expected on Friday. City hotelier Mark O’Reilly, who owns the Elephant and Wheelbarrow, said his patronage levels are at just 30 per cent compared to pre-COVID levels. “We’ve got no after-work drinkers and no people in the city having lunches,” he said. “It’s important to get workers back for restaurateurs and the whole vibrancy of the city.” Mr Lang said the other major cities weren’t operating to percentage caps and were instead sticking to the 1.5 metre social distancing rule, which allowed many workers back in a COVID-safe environment. In the past six weeks SBA figures showed foot traffic compared to pre-pandemic remains well down and in Melbourne it’s the worst of all capitals – down 52 per cent.Pre-pandemic about 900,000 people frequented the city each weekday; this is now at just 432,000.In Sydney foot traffic is down 35 per cent, Perth down 19 per cent, Brisbane down 18 per cent and Adelaide down 12 per cent. The Restaurant and Catering Australia’s chief executive officer Wes Lambert said there needed to be workers “returning en masse” before JobKeeper ceases at the end of March. “It is going to take office and government workers being back to get the restaurant industry back to normal,” he said. “Restaurants need to see a return of office workers by the time JobKeeper ends or we certainly will see more closures.”Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said “small business and workers have lost confidence in the Andrews Labor Government”. “They’re fearful Daniel Andrews will mess up hotel quarantine again and put us into another snap lockdown at any moment,” he said.  “We want to see life brought back into our city and all of the jobs it supports.”The Australian Retailers Associations’ chief executive officer Paul Zahra said “we need to ensure there’s a staged return of office workers to help the city and its retail community get back on its feet”. [email protected]@sophieelsworth

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