UPDATED - TUESDAY, 5.40pm:
As many as 200 casual staff working at the City of Ballarat will be paid for two weeks then let go, according to the Australian Services Union, as the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic affects employment in Ballarat.
While full and part-time staff have been given a plan to use leave and other entitlements in coming weeks, The Courier understands City of Ballarat has said its casual staff 'can't be maintained.'
In a statement this afternoon, council CEO Justine Linley outlined the financial dilemma she says is facing the city.
"As an organisation it will take us 10 years to return to the strong financial position we were in at the start of 2020," Ms Linley wrote.
"In just three months this will have been wiped out as we look at ways to maintain sufficient cashflow to keep our essential services going. Services that keep much of this city operating and provide for the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the state.
"Not since the Great Depression has this community faced the economic prospects ahead of us. We expect that many members of our community will not be able to afford to meet their commitments, including paying their rates which we, as a local government, rely on."
There are 108 operational staff at the council's works depot and according to the Australian Services Union's figures, around another 100 employed across the city, working at early childhood and aged care, swimming pools, leisure centres, the Art Gallery of Ballarat and associated cafes, and in administration.
ASU organiser Will Wyatt says those vulnerable staff deserve the same protections as full and part-time.
In an impassioned press conference held outside Ballarat's Town Hall on Tuesday, Mr Wyatt said both local and state government need to find ways to giver greater assistance.
"I think the state government could do more," Mr Wyatt said.
"There certainly seems to be the ability to make directions about what are essential services. I would advance local government is essential services, they're one of the pillars of our community, they provide valuable community services, and we can redeploy those employees who have been stood down to provide those services
"We certainly want to see casuals afforded with the same special leave considerations as ongoing employees, that being at least two weeks of support while they go to Centrelink or try to find alternative sources of income.
"It's important that local government provides a coordinated approach - Ballarat has jumped the gun on this, they have this workforce that is isolated, and they've stood them down."
Several full-time staff at council have told The Courier casual staff will no longer be rostered in a fortnight's time.
The City of Ballarat has told employees at its Works Depot to use up their current and future leave entitlements in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than standing them down.
A council worker told The Courier staff were instructed to use up their annual and long-service leave and rostered days off for up to four months from the close of business on Monday, but workers have not been stood down, which would give them access to unemployment benefits.
The worker said a council representative arrived at the Works Depot before the start of operations on Monday to inform workers of council's decision in person.
"He just said, and I'm quoting: 'I'm telling you what's going to happen; this is because of what Daniel Andrews said,'" the worker told The Courier on condition of anonymity.
"We have been told to use our entitlements, both now and into the future. So we have to use up everything for the next four years, which means we'll have nothing for all that time when we return to work - if we return.
"They are effectively laying every one off. Council will tell you they are keeping people on for Rapid Response Units, but it's only a couple of workers. The rest of us are out."
City of Ballarat is understood to be the first council to have taken this approach to their workers, and a source close to council told The Courier the action seems at odds with the Be Kind Ballarat initiative the council is currently promoting, and the fact council is running a surplus budget.
"Businesses are finding ways to keep their staff on; even Sovereign Hill is paying people for a fortnight," the source said.
"It seems a very strange and hard decision."
Another City of Ballarat employee expressed their frustration via email.
"Today the city of Ballarat has laid off their workers," the worker wrote.
"The workers have been told they are expected to use their own leave entitlements to get through this disaster.
"No worker should have to use their own entitlements when there is a disaster like this happen (sic), when in actual fact the government has budgets and accommodated for situations similar to this.
"Where is the fairness here!? Workers are going to be expected to use their holiday entitlements which means for the coming 2,3 or even 4 years; there will be no holidays or rostered days off because they have gone into a holiday deficit.
"Again how is this fair!? The council preaches a slogan: Loyalty... leadership... excellence.... outcome... Where is the loyalty here? To the "worker" there is absolutely none whatsoever."
READ MORE: How do I know if I have COVID-19?
Australian Services Union secretary Lisa Darmanin was highly critical of the City of Ballarat's approach to their workers.
"The City of Ballarat is one of the largest employers in the region, and ratepayers are still contributing to the operation of council through their rates," Ms Darmanin told The Courier.
"Ballarat needs to join other councils and make every effort to redeploy staff to other areas, with sending workers home as a last resort.
"The council should be exploring further options to support their staff and provide certainty to the extended Ballarat community rather than taking the current approach.
"If there is no other option, the City of Ballarat needs to provide a minimum 10 days of special leave to every worker affected by the coronavirus pandemic."
City of Ballarat's Works Department is responsible for the upkeep of the city's roads, footpath repairs, street cleaning, gardening and other areas.
In a Covid-19 update late on Monday council reiterated would maintian a number of key essential services including Waste Collection, Street cleaning, In-home support, Maternal and Child Health, the Ballarat Animal Shelter, a rapid response team to infrastructure and maintenance, council-run childcare centres and immunisations
The Courier sent questions to the City of Ballarat media team regarding the Depot staff decision, but did not receive a response by deadline.
We have removed our paywall from our stories about the coronavirus. This is a rapidly changing situation and we aim to make sure our readers are as informed as possible. If you would like to support our journalists you can subscribe here.