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The founder of large franchise chain Jim’s Mowing and vocal critic of Covid restrictions, Jim Penman, has unleashed on the Victorian government’s fourth lockdown, but reversed a directive to his company’s franchisees to keep working during the state’s seven-day lockdown.
An email sent from Jim’s Group national office to Victorian franchisees late on Thursday said that its reading of the government restrictions was that businesses such as dog washers and lawn mowers would be able to operate as normal.
The email referred to government guidelines which stated “essential infrastructure and essential services that are required to maintain or protect human health, safety and wellbeing . . . and including construction, maintenance and repair of such infrastructure” were allowed during lockdown.
“Under these terms stated above,” the Jim’s Group email continued, “we are of the understanding we are permitted to continue working however must adhere to strict guidelines and Covid safe plans.”
The directive prompted at least one franchisee to quit in protest.
But on Friday morning, managers sent another email to franchisees reversing its decision, saying all Victorian operations would be suspended until the lockdown ends, meaning the businesses would close and would not have to pay franchise fees.
Jim’s Group founder Jim Penman said the change had followed further clarification from Victorian authorities on Friday.
But he said he strongly disagreed with the government’s decision to impose a fourth lockdown on the state.
In an open letter published later on Friday, Penman claimed the Victorian government’s management of the pandemic had been so bad it had contributed to franchisees and their families attempting suicide, having marriage breakdowns, and losing their homes.
“You have again bungled the management of Covid and imposed restrictions on sole workers with no valid reason, for your own political advantage. This is contemptible and it is wrong,” Penham wrote.
Penman has been a vocal critic of the Victorian government throughout the pandemic, at times partnering with fringe anti-lockdown groups.
He said his open letter would outline why he believed the lockdown was unnecessary and spell out that he felt acting premier James Merlino was treating “people with contempt”.
The group’s approach to the latest lockdown was the final straw for Luke Jurrjens, a mowing franchisee from Riddell’s Creek in central Victoria.
He sent an email to his manager on Friday morning forfeiting his franchise, frustrated as what he considered an attempt to flout the law in a bid to pocket franchise fees.
Jurrjens said that he could afford to pay the fees costing about $800 a month, but was disgusted at the principle of working in breach of the health advice.
“Jim has once again actively tried to interfere with the lockdown. He’s told people to ignore the government directions and go out and work.
“He just has no respect for the rule of law.”
Despite the company later backtracking, Jurrjens will not seek to regain his franchise.
“A stand has to be made at some point,” he said.
“It’s a national organisation acting as a Goliath to direct their Davids into a war front that they won’t be defended from.”
But Penman said he did not direct franchisees to ignore the law.
“At no stage would I advise any of my franchisees to disobey the law, never have, never will,” Penman said.
“But we think the law is an ass. And the premier is an ass.”
The Victorian health department has been contacted for comment.
According to the Jim’s Group’s website, it has more than 3,800 franchisees with an annual turnover of about $500 million in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK.
Merlino was asked during his media conference on Friday about whether gardening was permitted, but spoke instead about the restrictions on construction and renovation work, which is allowed to continue in most circumstances.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton was asked in the same conference directly about whether Jim’s Mowing was allowed to operate and said he would seek further advice.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Jim’s Mowing boss attacks Victorian lockdown but backs off directive to keep working | Victoria