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Dispensing wage subsidy ‘back on’ for existing staff after government changes tune

The Federal Government has reversed its decision to restrict a major optical dispensing traineeship wage subsidy to new employees only, reinstating the original criteria that included longer term staff.

The new Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements (BAC) program was announced on Federal Budget night on 6 October and provides employers with a tax-free 50% subsidy to upskill around 100,000 people across multiple sectors. It is only available for one year until September 30, 2021, to a maximum of $28,000.

James Gibbins.

When the scheme was launched, almost all unqualified optical dispensers were eligible, prompting hundreds of practices to enquire about the initiative and enrol optical assistants in training programs.

Then on 28 October, the government announced a crucial change, limiting BAC to new employees only. Overnight, many optical assistants who were set to sign up for the scheme became ineligible.

But this week Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD) director and senior trainer Mr James Gibbins confirmed the program was “back on”, after the government reversed its 28 October decision.

“The Federal Government has amended its amendments of October 28, and in summary reversed the decision of October 28 that excluded the longer-term employees from this traineeship program and the huge 50% wages subsidy that goes with it,” he said.

“We are therefore back to the original criteria for optical assistants – almost all part time and full time unqualified optical assistants will now qualify for the full 50% wages subsidy – subject to the usual eligibility tests.”

JobMaker confusion 

Gibbins also moved to clarify “much confusion and misunderstanding” in the optical sector regarding which program has the most relevance and benefit for employers.

He said many had only heard of the JobMaker Hiring Credit – also announced in the Federal Budget – which provides employers either $100 or $200 per week in wage subsidies for each new job they create for the next year.

“[Many employers] have correctly deducted that it has little benefit. The JobMaker program is helpful for an industry that has no apprenticeships or traineeships available. Thankfully our industry has optical dispensing traineeships, which comes with up to six times more financial benefit, includes training for dispensing, and is open to a far greater field of applicants,” Gibbins said.

“And any employee that would qualify for JobMaker will automatically qualify for this BAC Program. In short, there is no comparison, and already hundreds of employers around Australia have engaged this program now and are already reaping the benefits. But we are also aware that many employers are either unaware or have been confused by promotions for JobMaker.”

Gibbins encouraged employers to promote the enrolment of their staff into the program promptly for two reasons – to ensure they are included in the program before it’s over-subscribed (100,000 cap), and to maximise the wage subsidy which is backdated to the date of registration on the ACOD website.

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