The boss of Jim’s Mowing has ordered his staff to stand down in a dramatic backflip in response to Premier Daniel Andrews and Melbourne’s lockdown laws.
Jim Penman, who founded Jim’s Mowing, vowed to continue mowing lawns and offered to pay the fines of any contractors caught out after Mr Andrews said lawn mowing businesses are banned in the six-week stage four lockdown.
But the self-made millionaire told his Melbourne metro franchises to stop work in a letter to his staff on Wednesday afternoon, even though he believes it is legally safe for them to work.
‘We still believe we have a legal right to operate under stage four restrictions, based on guidelines put out by the Department of Health and Human Welfare,’ Mr Penman’s letter reads, as reported by Herald Sun.
‘But given the pressure being applied by the Premier, we must ask all Melbourne metro franchisees to stop work today. Your fees will be suspended. You may apply for a permit to operate as an essential worker, though there is no certainty this will be honoured.’
Mr Andrews shot the business owner down during his press conference earlier on Wednesday after the tycoon said his staff would keep working.
‘They are not permitted workers unless, of course, they were providing emergency urgent work. For instance, if a tree fell, then they might be able to go and do that work,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘But I’m afraid lawns are not getting mowed, people are not getting haircuts.’
Mr Penman had previously argued there was ‘nothing more safe than going out and mowing lawns’ and claimed the guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services stated he could safely run his business.
‘We will continue to fight for your right to operate, if you wish to,’ the letter continues. ‘We strongly believe that our services carry no risk of infection and contribute to the health and welfare of Victorians.’
Mr Penman appeared on Sunrise on Thursday morning and claimed Mr Andrews was ‘ruling like a tyrant’.
‘Can I just make that clear, we are not encouraging anybody to defy the law, never have,’ Mr Penman said.
‘What we said is the Premier has sent out detailed instructions in stage four about what is legally possible and what is not, including the fact that some operators working alone can operate.
‘This is legally binding instructions from the Department of Health and Human Services. We have asked our franchisees to abide by that.
‘I would defy the Premier to name one person in Australia or New Zealand or anyone in the world who has caused or caught an infection while working alone in somebody’s garden.
‘It is ridiculous, ridiculous measure that has caused misery to tens of thousands of Victorians.
‘We were opening and intended to obey the rules, which will support the wearing of masks and other measures to control this infection. It is a terrible, terrible burden on the state and in this country.
‘What we are saying is what the Premier has done is he is ruling like a tyrant, setting out arbitrary statements that are contradicting his own department.’
Premier Andrews on Wednesday said he ‘took no pleasure’ in shutting down businesses to curb the spread of coronavirus.
‘(If I said yes to) everyone who had an emotional, powerful, well-argued case, then we would have more people at work in August than we had last month, even under stage three,’ the premier said.
‘If I don’t make these decisions… we won’t drive down the number of cases and, indeed, the number of people who are dying.’
The stage four guidelines allow for grounds maintenance businesses to keep operating if there’s a COVID Safe plan in place.
But that only applies as long as the businesses are ‘providing support to an essential industry or where required to maintain the health and safety of Victorians at home or at work’.
Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton said it was ‘disappointing’ to hear that someone planned to deliberately flaunt the directions.
‘We’ll deal with every incident on a case-by-case basis when we become alerted to it through the police assistance line,’ he said.
Jim’s Mowing is a thriving business with 55 different divisions in both Australia and New Zealand, 4,000 franchisees and 35,000 customers per day.
Mr Penman founded the company in 1982 after giving up his dream of becoming an academic.