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Printers in locked down Sydney and Melbourne are continuing to print, operating under the essential services banner until told otherwise, as the government moves to slash the time it takes for lockdown business support payments to kick in.

Fifth lockdown necessary: Dan Andrews

Melbourne joined Sydney in lockdown last week, its fifth since Covid entered Australia, with business and the population now facing extended lockdown. It was originally due to end tomorrow (Tuesday) but will now run longer, with the end date yet to be decided.

It also makes masks mandatory in the Victorian workplace. Previously they were only necessary if members of the public came in.

Printers were furious, several venting their frustration with Premier Dan Andrews to Print21, with a fair degree of industrial language used to express their anger, at what they see as another over-reaction that closes down Melbourne and the whole state.

Many print businesses in the east coast states have been operating throughout the lockdowns, in contrast to those in New Zealand and in Perth, who were told they could only print Covid related items.

The to-print-or-not situation though is somewhat grey. In Sydney, the state premier Gladys Berejiklian has effectively told businesses to decide for themselves if they are an essential service. In Victoria, there is a government list of essential services, which does not include printers or packaging companies, however it does include manufacturers who are producing goods or services necessary to support essential services, and many print and packaging businesses are taking this to mean they can continue to operate.

Walter Kuhn, president of the PVCA said: "A company has to decide if the work they are doing is supporting essential activity. Some of that is easy to affirm - the likes of labels for foodstuffs, Covid-safe floor graphics, flyers for medical centres - other items are not as easy to define."

Kellie Northwood, CEO, The Real Media Collective, said, "Printers are able to work as essential service supply chain providers."

Ines Willox, CEO of employers association Ai Group lambasted calls to create essential services list as being made by "loudmouth commentators", saying, "Misguided calls for NSW to start preparing lists of what is an essential worker or essential business forget the absolute chaos in the business community caused by other states’ ham-fisted attempts to codify essential services."

When Perth was in lockdown printers faced cops coming onto the premises telling them to stop the presses immediately. The New Zealand lockdown, which was also total, caused the country's biggest magazine publisher Bauer Media to cease operations completely. Printers in Qld, NSW and Victoria though seem to be free to carry on, providing they adhere to the five main Covid workplace caveats.

Meanwhile, the federal government is reducing the lead time for the business support payment from four weeks to two, agreeing the new timescale at national cabinet this morning, for the $500m a week cashflow that was only introduced on Wednesday.

The payment will see printers and other small and medium sized enterprises, who can show turnover has dipped by 30 per cent or more compared with the equivalent two week period in 2019, able to claim 40 per cent of their payroll, with between $1500 and $10,000 a week available to them, providing they keep all their full-time, part-time and long-term casual staff on the payroll.

Northwood said, "Our industry has experienced significant downturn since the original lockdown was announced in Sydney, and this will only continue with the expected lockdown extensions. The joint financial support for businesses announced are welcomed, and the initial notice indicates the support for business is appropriate.”

Scott Morrison has also moved to ease criteria for staff to claim support if their hours have been reduced, reducing the timeline, and backpaying the support to the start of the lockdown.

Those five caveats for business who feel they are providing essential service support continuing to print include allowing staff who can work from home to do just that. So, admin and sales staff should work from home where possible and not be coming into the workplace.

Staff at work need to wear masks at all times. Social distancing needs to be maintained, which includes the 1.5m rule, and there needs to be a maximum one person for every 4sqm inside.

A Covid-safe plan needs to be implemented, communicated and understood by staff, and any visitors need to be registered through the QR code before entry, and they must also wear masks.

Visiting clients in their workplace is a grey area, but the PVCA urges caution in all respects. Sign and display installations can go ahead outdoors and indoors, except indoors where the public are allowed, for instance, in supermarkets during opening hours, however, installing Covid signage is allowed at any time there.

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