Welfare advocates attack move to digitise employment services
21 March 2019 at 8:20 am
Anti-poverty groups fear the government’s plan to digitise employment services will result in millions of penalties being automatically imposed on vulnerable jobseekers.
Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer announced an overhaul of the government’s outsourced jobseeker program Jobactive on Wednesday, after a recent Senate inquiry found the scheme did not help people find work.
The new system will use a digital platform to match job-ready jobseekers with suitable vacancies and also allows users access to suitable training, advice or guidance if needed.
The government said savings from digital servicing will be reinvested in the system to provide tailored face-to-face services for those needing extra help when looking for work.
Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) media officer Jeremy Poxon said while the government had made a few small steps in the right direction, he was concerned that digitising employment services would only mean more punishments for the unemployed.
He noted that last financial year alone, 1.6 million penalties were handed out to jobseekers.
“We worry that pursuing digitised services is just going to result in more of what we’ve already seen,” Poxon told Pro Bono News.
“By taking away government oversight of monitoring compliance and issuing punishments… it could result in an extraordinary number of penalties.”
This whole idea that digitising services gives job seekers more freedom is a crock: it actually means more targeted compliance & control, as well as record-breaking breaches & penalties – all designed to (as @KellyODwyer says at the bottom of the article) “save” the g’ment money
— jeremy poxon (@JeremyPoxon) March 19, 2019
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie echoed Poxon’s concerns, warning against an overreliance on automation and digital programs.
“A big risk with the proposed online employment services system is that penalties for non-compliance could be automatically imposed without any human intervention,” Goldie said.
Goldie also warned about a potential digital divide for disadvantaged people who could not afford access to the internet, smartphones or online platforms.
But ACOSS has welcomed the government’s promise of more intensive help for vulnerable people, and the removal of requirements forcing jobseekers to apply for 20 positions a month.
The latest system will use new online tools to help employers search for candidates quicker, and offers incentives for providers to build better relationships with employers.
A licensing framework is also being introduced, with performance criteria that means providers not meeting the needs of users will not have their licenses renewed.
O’Dwyer said the changes will empower jobseekers who are job ready and prioritise support for those who face the greatest barriers.
“Jobseekers, during consultations on the new model, told us they want training and work experience, they want more autonomy and choice and more visibility over the system,” O’Dwyer said.
“Employers told us they need high quality candidates for the right job, at the right time. The new system will completely transform the program to deliver for both jobseekers and employers.
“Not only will our changes make mutual obligation activities more effective and targeted, it will reduce unsuitable applications to small businesses, reducing their burden and removing red tape.”
The Coalition Government will transform Australia’s employment services model to deliver better outcomes for both job seekers and employers as part of our plan for a stronger economy. #auspol
— Kelly O’Dwyer (@KellyODwyer) March 19, 2019
But Poxon – who told a Senate inquiry last year that Jobactive was a “special kind of hell” for welfare recipients with mental health issues – described the new system as “Jobactive with a paint job” and said it failed to address major issues with the scheme.
He also expressed doubt that a Labor government would improve things, despite the party’s announcement in January that it would overhaul the system to focus more on helping jobseekers find long-term employment.
“We really don’t see much of a difference between the way the Coalition is redesigning Jobactive at the moment and the way Labor wants to change it,” he said.
“We’d like to see a system that actually rewards people for doing the right thing, maybe with incentives built in rather than disincentives. We’d like to see the privatised employment services system reined in as well.”
The government will commence a trial of the new system in Adelaide South and New South Wales’ mid north coast from 1 July this year.
Existing Jobactive contracts will be extended for two years, with the new model rolling out nationally from July 2022.