Newly unemployed Australians ‘harassed and threatened’ by job agencies

Cait Kelly and Christiane Barro write (The New Daily 5 May 2020), about harassment being faced by those who have lost their job because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The accusation is levelled against private operators in the Job Network. Pressure is being put to enter into mutual obligation agreements that involve job searching while the lockdown is on. The operators get paid by Centrelink according the number they get off the unemployed list.

Australians suddenly without work during the coronavirus pandemic say they are being ‘threatened and harassed’ into filling out job applications – despite a freeze on the dole prerequisite.

The Federal Government suspended mutual obligations for those receiving JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payments until May 22, meaning payments cannot be cancelled or reduced if recipients do not meet the requirements.

Mutual obligations include attending meetings with your employment provider, applying for 20 jobs per month and performing activities like Work For the Dole.

But unemployed Australians have reported receiving pushy calls from job agencies. They say they’ve been told to sign-up to job plans or risk “consequences”.

Jobseeker agencies across the country will reap at least $210 million of taxpayer money from the pandemic, with almost 1 million Australians out of work, a recent report from think tank Per Capita revealed.

Alex North, 25, told The New Daily that he was “guilt-tripped” by one agency in New South Wales to sign-up, and initially had his payment threatened.

“(They said) I’ve called you up to sign you up to a brand-new job plan,” Mr North said.

And I’m just letting you know if you don’t sign this plan, there are consequences.

“So I want to quickly get through this with you as soon as possible so we can get you on the right track to make sure that your payment isn’t affected.”

Mr North, who volunteers for the Unemployed Workers Union, said he told the provider that mutual job requirements were suspended until May 22.

Alex North

“Immediately when I said that, my caseworker got extremely defensive,” Mr North said.

“I could tell immediately that my provider had no idea what was going on.”

Under the controversial program, about 40 private companies and not-for-profits receive government funding for helping find Australians work. They receive an extra lump sum of $1,515 per person when they are successful.

The effectiveness of the program has been debated, with a Senate inquiry in March 2019 finding it “not fit for purpose”.

What happens to mutual obligations after May 22?

The office for Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the agreement to suspend mutual obligations after May 22 was being reviewed.

“Due to COVID-19 restrictions, job seekers who are in receipt of income support payments do not currently have any mutual obligation requirements, which have been suspended until May 22, 2020,” a spokeswoman said.

“This arrangement is being regularly reviewed in light of other restrictions.”

Senator Cash was calling on providers to be “flexible”.

“The Minister has asked providers to be flexible and compassionate in dealing with people and their circumstances through the COVID-19 situation,” the spokeswoman said.

“The Department closely monitors the performance of providers and follows up on any complaints.”

Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the government was letting down its responsibility to “ensure job agencies are upholding this agreement and job seekers aren’t being exploited”.

I wrote to Minister Cash asking the Government to consider temporarily amending the contracts between providers and the Government for a more sustainable funding model during this time of crisis, and ensure the sector does not collapse right before it is needed more than ever,” Mr O’Connor said.

“It is at best complacency, at worst incompetence that the government failed to foresee these issues.”

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