Jobseekers who have accrued penalties or demerits under Australia’s outgoing employment services program will have their slates wiped clean, under a Labor pledge made just days before a controversial new system comes into effect.
- Labor has announced last-minute changes to Workforce Australia, the new unemployment service coming in next week
- It says the tweaks will give participants more time to adjust and will provide “real incentive” for jobseekers
- There have been concerns the program has been poorly communicated, leaving many confused and fearful
From next Monday, a new service called Workforce Australia will replace the jobactive scheme, which required jobseekers to submit 20 job applications a month to keep their Centrelink payments.
The Workforce Australia changes — including a new points-based system for mutual obligations — have been criticised by some social services advocates for being poorly communicated, leading to high levels of fear and confusion that are yet to be fully resolved.
New Employment Minister Tony Burke said earlier this month it was “too late” to scrap the changes — which were passed under the Morison government — so Labor would look to alter things instead.
Those changes were announced on Tuesday afternoon, along with the new, “clean slate” policy.
“The previous federal government locked in the points system — and signed more than $7 billion worth of contracts with providers — shortly before the election. But it never properly explained the new system to the Australian people,” Mr Burke said in a statement.
“That’s one of the reasons the new government is implementing a ‘clean slate’ policy, meaning people who have accrued penalties or demerits under the old system will start over under the new one.”
Mr Burke said the new system meant “a fresh start”.
“This decision will give participants a number of months to adjust to the new system, with little risk of financial penalty.”
Jobactive was for years criticised by Centrelink recipients and their advocates as punitive and unproductive, as well as labelled “not fit for purpose” by a Senate committee in 2019.
Changes to ‘provide real incentives’
A major source of concern around the Workforce Australia changes was the introduction of the mutual obligations Points Based Activation System (PBAS).
Under the PBAS, most jobseekers will need to accumulate 100 points a month — earned through activities such as completing job applications or training courses — to continue receiving their payments.
When first announced, there was concern the change could see people participating in more mutual obligations requirements than under the current rules.
For example, under the PBAS, a person doing the work for the dole program full-time would only get 20 points a week, meaning they’d still need to complete other activities on top of that to keep their payments.
On Tuesday, Mr Burke announced a slew of changes to the PBAS, including increasing the points value attached to a number of activities, including the Adult Migrant English Program, and reducing the points target for some participants to better recognise personal circumstances.
The minimum new job search requirement has been dropped from five to four per week, and “vulnerable” individuals will have no job search requirements if they are undertaking approved short full-time courses.
Tuesday’s announcement would “provide real incentives for people who are making an extra effort to be job ready”, Mr Burke said.
“It is important to note that people who continue to do exactly what they did under the old system — apply for 20 jobs a month — will still meet their points requirements and, therefore, satisfy their mutual obligation.”
Further guidance on the changes would continue to be provided to those affected via their current jobactive inbox, Mr Burke said.
Earlier on Tuesday, a report released by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said low-income earners subject to mutual obligations under jobactive experienced distress and were dissatisfied with the program.
While Workforce Australia is intended to offer more choice and agency for jobseekers, ACOSS said it was concerned that many of jobactive’s features remained.
“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,” ACOSS’ acting chief executive, Edwina MacDonald, said.
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