Job seekers shifted into trial online service without extra funding
About 340,000 Australians hunting for jobs are using an online employment services system intended as a trial for 50,000 people while the government checked how it worked.
The full rollout of the new online service, originally slated for mid-2022, was supposed to free up more funding for intensive services for those people who needed them most.
There are worries people using an online government portal to look for work could fall between the cracks without a face-to-face employment service as back-up.Credit:Janie Barrett
Without that redirected money, job agencies and social services advocates are worried unemployed people who need extra help will fall through the cracks.
The coronavirus recession forced 800,000 Australians out of work in March and April. The government initially linked all of them with a new online system to give employment service providers time to increase their capacity.
Since then, it has referred just over half the new job seekers to traditional services but kept the rest in the new system, run by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
The sector's peak body is worried the move would lead to people ending up as long-term unemployed.
"They don't have an assessment of their needs, they don't have someone they're talking to who coaches them or identifies what they may need, it's a self-directed process," National Employment Services Association chief executive Sally Sinclair said.
It was "not really very ethical" to force unemployed Australians into what was essentially an experiment in service provision, she said.
NESA wants it made clear to people they can opt out of the online service and instead use its member organisations.
A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said people using the online service were advised of their options to seek help via targeted messaging, their job seeker dashboard and on the department's website. People could also request a reassessment of their needs.
"Job seekers can opt out of using the online service at any point and be referred to a provider if that is their preference," the spokeswoman said.
The Australian Council of Social Service believes the light-touch online support should be suitable for about two-thirds of those who have lost jobs in the pandemic but cautions there are more mental health issues surfacing that may not be properly addressed.
"It's very important that they have access to a back-up service by phone or face-to-face, where that's safe, that can link them up with employers, can link them up with mental health services or emergency relief where that's required," ACOSS principal adviser Peter Davidson said. ACOSS wants that kind of back-up provided through Centrelink offices.
When the government announced the new system in March 2019, it pledged to reinvest savings from the move online to provide individualised, intensive services for the most disadvantaged people. Currently, this was happening only in the original new employment services' trial locations in the NSW mid-north coast and Adelaide, Senator Cash's office confirmed.
Dr Davidson said the sudden mammoth demand for employment services had not been matched by extra money across the board, only funding brought forward.
The job agencies were already under stress before the crisis, with each employment consultant dealing with 140 people on average and unable to offer the type of personalised help needed.
He wants the October budget to include a jobs and training guarantee for long-term unemployed, and proper funding.
The Australian Unemployed Workers' Union believes the online service will need more supports but otherwise sees it as a good step away from forcing people to go to the job agencies.
"The online services basically protect people from having to be exposed to the really terrible behaviour and the unsafe behaviour of job agencies," AUWU spokeswoman Kristin O'Connell said.
"We hear the most when things are wrong. We hear a lot about what's going on in job agencies; we haven't heard a lot about what's going on in online employment services and that, we hope, means that people are not having too bad an experience with it."
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