ACOSS welcomes the changes announced by Employment Minister Tony Burke earlier this week to the new Workforce Australia employment service system and sees them as good first steps in reforming a seriously flawed system. The new system, which starts from Monday, includes a new Points Based Activation System, as well as online employment services for people closer to employment.
When we released our survey of people’s experiences with the jobactive system this week, ACOSS reiterated its long-held concern that, while the new system was intended to offer more choice and agency for people as they search for employment, it retains many deeply problematic features from the old employment services system (jobactive) that cause stress and hardship for people who are unemployed without improving their job prospects.
The Minister’s announcements, which go some way to addressing ACOSS concerns, include:
- to ‘clean slate’ past breaches of activity requirements and make it easier for people to reconnect with their employment service and avoid payment suspensions when they don’t meet all of their obligations;
- changes to the ‘Points Based Activation System’ (PBAS) to give people more credit for obtaining a job or participating in fulltime training so job search requirements are reduced, with a default requirement to apply for four jobs a month rather than five;
- automatically reducing activity requirements for people with barriers to employment including a disability, parenting responsibilities, age discrimination and a lack of jobs where they live;
- a recognition of concerns held about the automation of payment suspensions though these remain in place for the time being.
While the new system presents some opportunities for increased flexibility and choice, it also brings risks, especially for people not used to working online, those who have to change providers, and those will struggle with the greater complexity of the PBAS.
ACOSS continues to call for an extension of the one-month suspension of activity requirements when people transfer into Workforce Australia to give people time to adjust to the scheme and iron out any problems that may emerge. It should be extended for up to three months and there should be no payment suspensions for people who can’t connect with their new provider straight away.
At a time when four out of five people on unemployment payments have been unemployed for over a year, ACOSS remains deeply troubled that the biggest problems with the new system are the things that haven’t changed. Much more must be done to make the new employment services fit for purpose for unemployed people and employers, and to ease the hardship, anxiety and stress that gets in the way of people’s efforts to secure employment. This includes:
- removing automated payment suspensions;
- abolishing punitive programs like Work for the Dole, which require people to engage in make-work schemes for well below minimum wage, and introducing a flexible Jobs and Training Offer of genuine, real substantial help for people unemployed long-term;
- making the ParentsNext program for parents with preschool-age children voluntary and ultimately replacing it with a quality career guidance program for people returning to the paid workforce;
- making further changes to the PBAS as needed to ensure requirements and the reporting of them are not inflexible or onerous.