The Morrison Government last week announced changes to a range of measures job seekers are required to meet to receive their Centrelink unemployment payments, to be increased by $25 a week or $3.57 a day from April 1.
As part of changes to mutual obligations, job seekers must attend face-to-face employment services meetings and, from April, apply for 15 jobs each month – almost double the eight positions job seekers are currently required to apply for.
Job applications will further increase to 20 positions a month from July.
While the government paused mutual obligations requirements during the pandemic, it reintroduced them in three stages between July and September.
It’s also reintroduced temporarily cutting payments for job seekers who don’t meet their job search requirements, with payments cancelled for those found to have declined a suitable position. They must wait four weeks to reapply for the payment.
The Government has also introduced an “employer reporting phone line” from April for businesses to dob in job seekers who decline work or “who are submitting questionable job applications”.
Data tabled at an estimates hearing in November showing 74,343 payments were suspended between September and October, after mutual obligations were reintroduced.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union’s Kristin O’Connell said she expected to see the number of payment suspensions increase under the new reporting regime.
She said the group had already received an increase in the number of people contacting the union in distress since the changes were announced.
“We’re concerned about the coming wave of payments suspensions just as payments are being slashed back to nearly half the poverty line,” O’Connell said.
“For people who weren’t on payments when the pandemic hit, they have experienced death by one thousand cuts and, for many people, this will be the final straw and they’ll be forced to either leave their home or to basically just not be able to afford anything except their rent.
“That’s what it means financially and therefore, when payments are suspended, the results are catastrophic for the person who’s had their payment cut.
“These systems are dangerous … and these mutual obligations do drive people to have much worse health outcomes.”
According to the Department of Education and Skills website, the changes to mutual obligations are in response to “data that shows our economy is bouncing back, with job advertisements now exceeding pre-COVID levels in all states and territories except NSW and VIC”.
It followed three months of year-on-year increases in job advertisement growth for online job advertisement site Seek.com as of February.
Despite the growth in advertisements, the number of job seekers looking for work has continued to far exceed the number of positions available.
On Thursday, Seek.com advertised for 181,122 jobs nationally while the number of job seekers exceeded 1.37 million, according to the Department of Social Services January figures.
“While we know that most job seekers do the right thing, this initiative will help identify job seekers who are not genuine,” it said.
“There will also be an increase in the auditing of job applications to spot people who are submitting non-genuine or deliberately poor-quality applications in order to meet job search targets.
“The increase in auditing applies to job seeker participants in jobactive, Online Employment Services, New Employment Services Trial and Disability Employment Services.”
While the government said it would begin auditing job applications from April, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the auditing process remained unclear.
“(The government) saying they’re going to be looking at a sample of applications to see if people are serious, how are they going to do that?” she asked.
“How are they going to get them? Are they saying to employers you’ve got to send us your applications?
“In my opinion, that’s an invasion of people’s privacy but also, given that they’re required to apply for 20 jobs a month, people are already applying for jobs they’re not qualified for – and the jobs aren’t there.”
Siewert said she was particularly concerned about the mental health implications of the government’s proposed employee hotline, labelling the phone line “dob seeker” and “a form of bullying and harassment”.
Asked about the overall implications of mutual obligations being tightened, Siewert said she too expected to see a rise in payments suspensions.
“Because of the increase in the number of applications you have to do, the dob-seeker and the analysis of job applications, unfortunately I’m expecting there will be an increase in suspensions,” she said.
“In terms of the way the government is approaching mutual obligations, they’re going back to their old ways of demonising job seekers and making life more difficult, implying it’s their fault they can’t find work when if you look at the number of jobs available … there are so few compared to the number that are looking for work.”
InDaily contacted the Department of Education and Skills for comment.
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