Government must immediately suspend mutual obligations to reduce COVID risk

ACOSS calls on the government to immediately suspend mutual obligations to safeguard people on JobSeeker and other payments, as well as job service providers while Omicron is spreading like wildfire and placing people in danger.

The speed at which Omicron is infecting people before they can get access to tests and test results means that people looking for paid work are currently being placed in danger while they meet mutual obligation requirements.

Many people subjected to mutual obligations are already sick, caring for others who are sick and need to stay home, so they don’t risk infection and transmission. To stay safe, many people are needing to effectively ‘lock down’ or at least reduce social interactions. 

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“With the health system buckling under the grip of this new phase of the pandemic, it is important to reduce all non-essential community interaction and give people the maximum capacity to keep themselves safe.  Requiring people to attend job services provider appointments or other face-to-face activities right now is exposing people to unnecessary risks and also placing the whole community at greater risk.

“We understand job service providers have been directed to be flexible, but our experience shows this rarely translates into universally safe practices. This is why the government must suspend mutual obligations as it has in the past. We should not be worsening the health crisis and placing people at risk.

We must also urgently address the adequacy of income supports for people who are being repeatedly hit by the loss of paid work or inability to secure it. The most obvious measure is to lift the adequacy or Jobseeker and Youth Allowance and associated key payments, and extend income support to all who need this safety net including those on temporary visas.”

ACOSS calls for the following: 

  • The Federal Government to immediately suspend mutual obligations until at least March so that the health risks can be contained, vaccination rates including for children and for boosters are elevated, and the roll-out of free, low cost and accessible rapid antigen tests has been implemented;
  • The government must also review the situation at the end of February and continue the suspension of mutual obligations if people continue to be at high risk of infection in face-to-face settings;
  • increase income support payments to at least $69 a day, increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 50% and introduce disability and single parent supplements to meet the additional costs faced by people with disability and illness as well as single parents.
  • Extend income support to all who need it including those on temporary visas.