‘It's a heartless decision’: Morrison government reintroduces welfare mutual obligations
21 September 2020 at 5:59 pm
Jobseekers soon face the threat of having their payments suspended
Anti-poverty advocates have slammed the federal government’s decision to reintroduce mutual obligations for jobseekers, warning this will push vulnerable people into further financial distress.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston announced in a joint statement that mutual obligation arrangements will return for all jobseekers from 28 September, with the exception of lockdown-hit Victoria.
Mutual obligations were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions in March, but the ministers said the time was right to slowly reintroduce compliance measures.
“Despite there still being health and economic challenges because of COVID-19, as the August 2020 labour force figures demonstrate, more Australians are returning to the workforce and many businesses are looking for workers,” the statement said.
“The expanded mutual obligation requirements will apply to all jobseekers in jobactive, Online Employment Services, Disability Employment Services and participants in the ParentsNext program.”
Failure to meet these requirements – such as participating in appointments with an employment service provider and agreeing to a job plan – could result in income support payment suspensions or penalties.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) has labelled the announcement “cruel” and “callous”.
AUWU spokesperson Kristin O’Connell told Pro Bono News this was an ideological move by the government that did not help jobseekers.
“It’s a heartless decision by the government and it doesn’t recognise the fact that mutual obligations don’t work, they have a track record of extending the average period of time that people are stuck living on a poverty payment,” O’Connell said.
“We are extremely worried about [the impact on] people’s wellbeing and their welfare and their health overall.”
O’Connell highlighted the dire impacts this would have on jobseekers when combined with the looming $300 cut to the coronavirus supplement.
She said it would be a particular shock to the 800,000-odd new JobSeeker recipients who may never have experienced mutual obligations before.
“This comes at a time when we’re going to have rental eviction moratoriums being lifted around the country,” she said.
“People have accrued rental debt throughout this period because they weren’t able to negotiate reductions, just a deferral.
“And so there’s going to be a huge crunch on people’s finances at the same time as they are being forced to start re-engaging with these jobs agencies.”
She added that the mutual obligations system was not needed to push people to apply for work.
“We know that SEEK has had more applications per job than ever before. And that was at a time when the payment was above the poverty line and mutual obligations were suspended,” she said.
“No one was being forced to look for work… And still we saw job applications skyrocket.”
O’Connell said the AUWU would like to see the current employment services system scrapped, with responsibility placed back in the public sector “where it’s not about profit”.
“Let’s have a system that responds to what people want, gives them dignity and respect, and provides the training that will actually help them get a job,” she said.
The Greens have also slammed the government’s announcement, calling the plan “mean spirited and unfair”.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said compliance-driven approaches that demonise people on income support do not help them find work.
“Now is the ideal time to reset how we support jobseekers,” Siewert said.
“We must move to a supportive model that meets people’s needs and focuses on supporting people rather than punishing them because they can’t find jobs that are not there.”
Meanwhile Labor leader Anthony Albanese said there “needs to be a bit of common sense” around enforcing mutual obligations in the current job market, but he did not directly comment on if the opposition supports the announcement.