Workforce Australia will become the new mainstream Government employment services system from next week, replacing jobactive, and a report has found thousands of Australians are relying on it to bring system-wide change to the currently inadequate services.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), peak body for the community services sector, has produced a report on the experiences of people who used jobactive services to identify the issues Workforce Australia will need to fix.
Among those hoping for change under the new system are people with disability and carers, whose current activity requirements for unemployment payments are unrealistic and inflexible, according to the report.
Almost 300 people were surveyed for the report, Voices 2: results of a survey of people who used jobactive, and three quarters (75 percent) of them were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with jobactive services. Only 10 percent of the survey respondents were satisfied with the service.
In addition to this, almost half (46 percent) of the respondents reported their appointments lasted less than ten minutes and “were a tick-box exercise”.
Acting ACOSS Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Edwina MacDonald, says the new Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, has indicated the Government will soon review some of the major issues with employment services, including automatic payment suspensions and activity requirements that don’t suit the individual.
Ms MacDonald welcomes Minister Burke’s suggestions, which could potentially help thousands of job seekers experiencing stress and hardship.
“For too long now employment services have been dominated by endless rounds of inflexible ‘tick a box’ activities, such as having to apply for 20 jobs a month and participating in unpaid ‘make work’ schemes like Work for the Dole that don’t help people find regular employment,” says Ms MacDonald.
“The pressures imposed on people to meet strict mutual obligation rules or risk losing income support are not helping them secure employment.
“In fact, by undermining people’s agency, confidence, and mental health, they have the opposite effect.”
The ACOSS report found several major issues with the jobactive system, including:
- Consultants and providers were not helpful for job seekers - almost 60 percent of respondents did not see the same consultants regularly, 62 percent said consultants were not well trained and 65 percent said they did not receive appropriate support
- A lack of personalisation, choice and control - 65 percent of respondents didn’t choose the activities in their job plan, 75 percent said the number of hours of activity was not right for them and 52 percent said the job plan did not accommodate their caring responsibilities or disability
- During COVID-19 lockdowns services did not work - 74 percent of the 126 respondents who were in lockdown for more than a month had not been offered useful services and 79 percent were required to do inappropriate training
- Unfair payment suspensions - 58 percent of respondents had received ‘demerit points’ because of provider errors, and 66 percent had payment suspensions because of provider errors
- Complaints processes were not accessible - 70 percent of respondents said it wasn’t easy to make a complaint and 72 percent did not think their complaint would result in changes to the service
Unfair payment suspensions have also become common and are causing massive financial stress to job seekers, Ms MacDonald says.
“As the Voices report shows, people receiving unemployment payments live in fear of having their payments suspended for minor infringements such as not attending a meeting with their employment service,” she says.
“In many cases they weren’t aware of the meeting.
“In the first three months of this year, an average of 200,000 payment suspensions a month were imposed – in many cases for failing to meet some sort of rigid requirement.”
The new Workforce Australia system will include activity requirements that are designed to be more flexible and better meet peoples’ needs, so that there is less chance of a payment suspension.
Ms MacDonald says while some elements of the new system appear to be a step forward, there are still concerns about its flexibility.
“While the new system is an improvement on jobactive, it retains many deeply problematic aspects of the old employment services system that need to go, such as computer-generated payment suspensions and inflexible regimes of compulsory activities like Work for the Dole,” says Ms MacDonald.
“It is important that we get this right because, since the pandemic, long-term unemployment has increased to its highest rate ever with over 760,000 people on Jobseeker or Youth Allowance payments for over a year.
“It is worth highlighting that people have told us they want services that are helpful, compassionate, professional, and understanding; to be treated decently and with dignity.
“Without changing the services so that they are more flexible, personalised and fair we are in danger of continuing to punish people who are struggling to find paid work that is suitable for them.”
ACOSS hopes its Voices report will be used as a benchmark to assess how the new employment services are working and what more needs to be done to make sure services are individualised and flexible.