Major headaches for micro-businesses

Struggling: Micro-business owners Daryl James and Dean Webster are finding it difficult to stay afloat and worry for the future if more funding is not made available. photograph tom gannon


LIKE many other micro-business owners across the state, the self-proclaimed ‘little guys’ of the Latrobe Valley are beginning to lose hope that they will make it out of the pandemic intact.

Traralgon locals Daryl James and Dean Webster, owners of separate lawn mowing businesses DJ’s Garden Clean Up and Webby’s Lawn Moving feel they’ve been left out to dry because of tough lockdowns and stringent COVID-19 financial support requirements.

As the owners of businesses with an annual turnover of less than $75,000, Mr James and Mr Webster aren’t required to pay GST, a detail which they say has made them ineligible for previous COVID-19 relief payments.

According to DJ’s Garden Clean Up bookkeeper Simone De La Rue James, the business lost a total of $3477 during the state’s fifth lockdown from July 15 to July 26.

In an industry where rain makes it impossible to work, periods such as this with reasonably dry weather conditions are vital.

Finding themselves eligible for the Federal Government’s $600 per week COVID-19 Disaster Payment the pair consider themselves lucky but admit the funds are a drop of water in a pool of lockdown losses.

“It’s come to the point that knowing we are being recognised makes a difference, although it’s not much and it won’t cover the whole lot (losses) at least it’s something and the government realises there are other businesses out there without employees who rely on this income,” DJ’s Garden Clean Up bookkeeper Simone De La Rue James told The Express.

Mr James is contracted through Villa Maria Catholic Homes, a non-for-profit which provides support services to elderly people living in at-home aged care.

With an elderly customer base who are otherwise unable to keep their outdoor areas well-kempt, Mr James said he struggles knowing he is unable to meet his customers’ needs when he cannot work during lockdown.

“Most of our customers are elderly and it hurts knowing I can’t get to my customers to help them out, it feels like I’m letting them down,” Mr James said.

“One of them is about to turn 100, he can’t go out there with a mower.” Similarly, Mr Webster fears for his future if his elderly customer base take their business elsewhere or do the work themselves if businesses like his aren’t supported correctly.

“This pandemic isn’t going to stop for a little bit, it’s going to keep going for another few years or more and we are all going to be broke, people are going to shut up shop and just do the work themselves or let us go because at the end of the day our service provides something for people that they don’t have to worry about, especially the elderly people we look after,” he said.

Mr Webster described the mental impact that such uncertainty was having on himself and others in similar positions.

“It puts a lot of stress on all families who are in the position we are in, it means you’ve got to watch your money very closely and if you’re not getting any funding then you’ve got to use your savings and that’s the problem all of us are facing,” he said.

“We are just bashing our head against a brick wall, we are getting nowhere, they don’t want to know about the little people,” Mr James added.

Industry Support and Recovery Minister Martin Pakula was contacted for comment regarding the prospect of state government funding being made available for micro-businesses.