Federal Government to Overhaul of ‘Punitive’ and ‘Outdated’ Jobseeker Program
17 December 2018 at 5:26 pm
An independent panel has found the federal government’s jobseeker program, Jobactive, to be punitive and digitally outdated, sparking a government commitment to overhaul the program.
The report, released on Friday, said even though Jobactive had put 1.1 million Australians into jobs since 2015, it was still failing to keep up with the digital age.
“The employment services system was designed in a world without smartphones, Google or SEEK. It was designed for a labour market where entry level jobs were more common, part-time work less common and only half of Australian workers held post-school education,” the report said.
It also said the system was unstable and not designed to help jobseekers, with one case worker for every 148 job seekers, and 40 per cent of staff leaving each year.
“We can do better for employers – very few use the system. We can do better for the long-term unemployed – one in five job seekers have been in the system for more than five years,” it said.
It recommended shifting the service to a self-service online platform, that gave the jobseeker more choice and control, assessed individual needs, goals, strengths and barriers, and matched seekers to the right employer.
“It will allow more than half of all job seekers to get on with finding work themselves – rather than slowing them down,” the report said.
It also said this would mean case workers were freed up to help people who needed the most support.
Minister for Jobs Kelly O’Dwyer, said the government would continue to work on aspects of the system that worked well, as well as roll out improvements through a new, overhauled employment services model.
“The report highlights the important role digital tools can play to help connect job seekers with services enabling resources to be better directed to those job seekers with greater needs, helping them find employment and achieve financial independence,” O’Dwyer said.
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said ACOSS welcomed the report, and the changes it would hopefully bring, as the current system targeted vulnerable people, rather than helping them find work.
“Jobactive currently operates more as a social security penalty system than an employment service system…they need help, not threats and humiliation,” Goldie said.
The report recommended the culture of a reformed system be less punitive, through recognising the job seekers’ circumstances, and combining positive behaviour reinforcement with penalties for the few who did the wrong thing.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the report demonstrated the current system was about punishing people trying to find work, and called for urgent reforms to be made, such as the abolition of the Targeted Compliance Framework, which financially penalised jobseekers who were non-compliant.
“It is clear that employment services aren’t working and providers are more focused on compliance rather than finding people jobs, particularly since the introduction of the Targeted Compliance Framework,” Siewert said.
An ACOSS survey of Jobactive participants in October found people felt bullied, that parents with young children were referred to jobs with night shifts, and people in country areas with few jobs were made to apply for 20 jobs a month.
Peter Davidson, an ACOSS senior adviser, said while the report provided promise of improvement, it also presented risks, such as a heavy reliance on a digital approach, that had to be addressed before changes were made.
“There is a serious digital divide that exists for people on low incomes who are being expected to rely on online services,” he said.
Siewert also said a digital approach wasn’t going to fix all the problems of the current system.
“Consultants need proper training and the number of jobs people have to apply for should be flexible to the local job market,” she said.
The report said the changes must be undertaken quickly, as Jobactive’s contract ended in 2020.
“It is essential that implementation of the future system, including the digital and data ecosystem, does not stall and is phased in by 2021,” it said.
O’Dwyer told Pro Bono News the government would continue to work with those affected before making a final decision on a new system.
“We will continue to work with stakeholders, undertaking further targeted consultation, before making a final decision on a future employment services system.”