ACOSS welcomes commitment to overdue reform of Employment Services (jobactive) but warns against over-reliance on automation and digital platforms

The Australian Council of Social Service welcomes the Government’s commitment today to overdue reforms to employment services (Jobactive), but warns there are also risks in what is being proposed.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

“Instead of getting real help to strengthen their skills and find a job, people looking for paid work in the current system face a bureaucratic, box-ticking exercise that threatens to cut off their income support payments and floods employers with unsuitable applications.

“We need to overhaul the employment services system and we welcome commitments from the Government today for long-overdue reform. However, we have a number of concerns, particularly about the reliance on automated compliance and digital platforms.

“The commitment to devote more resources to training, work experience and other help for people who are unemployed long-term is overdue and welcome. Australia spends less than half the OECD average on employment services, and has among the toughest income support compliance systems and lowest unemployment payments.

“We also welcome the commitment today to more flexible activity requirements, in place of a standardised requirement to apply for 20 jobs a month, regardless of whether jobs are available in the area, parenting responsibilities and disabilities.

“A big risk with the proposed online employment services system is that penalties for non-compliance could be automatically imposed without any human intervention. This can have unfair and incredibly damaging outcomes for people, as we’ve seen with Parents Next, and the Robodebt debacle.

“It’s vital that the Government avoids creating a digital divide in employment services, by isolating those who can’t access the internet or use online platforms,” Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS Principal Adviser, Peter Davidson, who was a member of the Employment Services Expert Panel said:

“Today’s announcement could herald a new beginning for employment services. It follows a commitment to reforms from the Labor Opposition and a year of comprehensive consultation by the Government with service users and community organisations. This close collaboration needs to continue to get these difficult and complex reforms right,” Dr Davidson said.

ACOSS welcomes the promise of:

  • more intensive help for people disadvantaged in the labour market, especially those unemployed long term. The employment fund available for this purpose should be topped up for each year of unemployment.
  • lower caseloads (currently, case workers each work with150 people on average)
  • more quality training and better work experience, though the wasteful work for the dole scheme remains
  • people able to take more control of their job search, in place of the inflexible 20- job-applications-a-month requirement
  • the prospect of better quality control through licensing of employment services. In most other human services, that means an independent quality assurance agency and there should be one in employment services.

ACOSS warns about the following risks of the new model:

  • the harshness of automated digital compliance where people can lose their payments without any human intervention, as we’ve seen with Parents Next, and the notorious Robodebt system
  • a digital divide in employment services for those who can’t access the internet or use online platforms
  • that the standard ‘20 jobs’ requirement could be replaced with more intrusive monitoring of activity and behaviour that goes well beyond what people need to do to improve their prospects of paid employment.