…the vast majority of job seekers want to work and some need support to realise economic inclusion goals. The employment services sector agrees that well-designed activation policies can help job seekers find work. As the reference by the OECD, research highlights activation can be very effective. However, for some job seekers with complex needs experience indicates that a work-first approach may not deliver the intended results and sets some up for failure when they are clearly not ready for employment. Job seekers who become overwhelmed by activation may also opt out through applying for a suspension of requirements.
This chapter examines the mutual obligation requirements for jobactive participants including the Job Plan, job search requirements, and appointments. It also considers activities undertaking within the annual activity requirement phase, including Work for the Dole (WfD) and volunteering programs and the effect of these activities on employment outcomes.
The chapter is structured according to the following topics:
Overview of mutual obligation requirements
Overview of Work for the Dole and other annual activity requirements
Drug and alcohol treatment
The committee's recommendations are set out throughout the chapter.
The compliance framework for participants who fail to meet their mutual obligation requirements is discussed in Chapter 8.
Overview of mutual obligation requirements
Mutual obligation requirements are actions that job seekers have to perform as a condition for receiving income support. They are a form of activation policy designed to get people into work. Mutual obligation requirements are defined in the Guide to Social Security Law:
Mutual Obligation Requirements refer to the general principle that it is fair and reasonable to expect unemployed people receiving activity tested income support to do their best to find work, undertake activities that will improve their skills and increase their employment prospects and, in some circumstances, contribute something to their community in return for receiving income support.
During the inquiry, the committee heard from some witnesses that mutual obligation requirements can improve employment outcomes. In this regard, organisations such as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) supported maintaining the concept of mutual obligation. Mr Nathan Smyth, Deputy Secretary for Employment from the Department of Jobs and Small Business informed the committee that mutual obligation requirements are supported by international evidence:
The policy known as mutual obligation has been in place since 1986. It's supported by international evidence that shows that activating people to look for work, and to undertake activities that will help them find work, is the most effective way of helping jobseekers transition to work.
Whilst activation is broadly accepted as a positive influence on employment outcomes, according to the National Employment Services Association (NESA) 'the right balance in the nature and volume of activities is essential'. In this regard, the committee heard that requirements imposed on job seekers in Australia are amongst the strictest of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Additionally, the committee heard that current mutual obligations have a high rate of non‑compliance.
Current mutual obligation requirements include:
entering into a Job Plan;
undertaking job search (generally this involves applying for 20 jobs per month); and
attending provider appointments.
Participants can also have annual activity requirements as part of their mutual obligations. These are discussed below.
The committee heard that the current mutual obligation requirements are inflexible and reduce the ability of providers to respond to the individual needs and circumstances of participants. Ms Christina Ward, Deputy Director at the Edmund Rice Centre WA, described existing mutual obligation requirements as 'arbitrary and unilateral'. According to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), 51 per cent of the people they surveyed said that their activity requirements were not suited to their circumstances.
Even employer representative organisations appeared to support improving the flexibility of mutual obligations. For example, Ms Jenny Lambert, Director, Employment, Education and Training from ACCI, submitted that mutual obligations 'could be measured in a wider range of ways to get the most efficient way for people to demonstrate that they're proactive in seeking employment'.
According to some submitters, existing mutual obligations do not substantially improve employment prospects, or even undermine employment outcomes. For example, UnitingCare Australia submitted that mutual obligation requirements are based on a flawed assumption:
…the imposition of Mutual Obligation requirements on unemployed jobseekers is based on the assumption that individuals are able to exercise a degree of control over their situation in accepting welfare benefits. We challenge this assumption, however, in the context of our modern economy that is subject to structural unemployment, which means that for many people, there is no real alternative to accepting welfare benefits. This is especially true for unemployed people with limited skills and capacities, or those who experience forms of discrimination that further prevent them from entering and remaining in the labour market.
This was also the view of the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia, who submitted that 'mutual obligation is a flawed concept'.
There was overwhelming support from submitters for greater choice over activity requirements, recognising that existing mutual obligations can be inflexible and work against employment outcomes. As outlined above, there was also support for giving providers greater discretion to adjust mutual obligations. Some submitters supported streamlining and simplifying mutual obligations.
Mutual obligation under future employment services
The report by the Employment Services Expert Advisory Panel notes that mutual obligation requirements can be inflexible. The Panel recommended that the future employment services system provide participants with more choice around mutual obligations:
Mutual obligation requirements will be more flexible under a points based structure.
Greater job seeker choice around the activities undertaken to get a job (job search remains a core requirement).
The Panel recommended that job seekers be allocated a number of points to reach each month 'based on what they can do'. Participants would be able to meet points through a choice of activities including job search and training, 'with more points for intensive activities'. The Panel's report suggests that the points based system would be developed with the input of job seekers. The report also states that participants would need to look for work, but 'the focus will be on the quality of applications rather than quantity'.
In support of the Panel's recommendations, the report cites an international meta-analysis which found that job search assistance 'has a positive effect on employment outcomes and greatly benefits disadvantaged job seekers'.
The committee notes that existing mutual obligation requirements are broadly perceived as inflexible. In this regard, the committee is supportive of the recommendation of the Expert Advisory Panel that participants be given greater choice over mutual obligations.
However, the committee notes that the future of employment services report does not contain substantial detail on how mutual obligations would work under a future employment services system. For example, the report states that the new system would prioritise the quality of job applications over quantity, yet does not explain how the quality of applications would be assessed. There is a risk that given the assessment of job applications would be somewhat subjective, it could result in unfair and inconsistent decisions about what constitutes an acceptable application.
The committee is of the view that mutual obligations need to become more principles-based and less prescriptive, to ensure that they remain relevant to the circumstances of individual participants. Mutual obligations should recognise the efforts people make to become more employable and look for work, rather than imposing paternalistic and rigid requirements.
The following sections discuss existing mutual obligation requirements in greater detail.
The committee recommends that the government improve mutual obligation requirements to better promote work readiness and effective job searches.
The committee recommends that the government consider broadening the range of activities participants can undertake to meet mutual obligation requirements.
The Job Plan
Jobactive participants with mutual obligations are required to enter into a Job Plan. A Job Plan is a return to work plan that sets out a pathway towards employment for the individual. Under jobactive, the Job Plan is used to record a participant’s obligations and any voluntary activities. For example, the Job Plan will indicate what job search requirements the participant has. Ideally, a Job Plan should be tailored to the needs and aspirations of the participant. According to My Pathway, an employment services provider, the Job Plan process 'is useful in establishing the initial agreement or contract between the provider and the job seeker'.
Return to work plans are fundamental to employment services arrangements and have evolved over past decades. NESA explained what is required to make a return to work plan effective:
To be effective individualised return to work plans ensure the person has agency, focus on pathways that enable the person to achieve their aspiration, adopt a holistic approach identifying vocational and non‑vocational factors influencing employment prospects, and are informed by labour market conditions and opportunities. In monitoring implementation of return to work plans, the emphasis is on working in partnership with job seekers to understand what strategies are working, which are not and why, and informing the plans evolution.
According to NESA, existing arrangements no longer reflect best practice:
To codify best practice into standard practice the Department broadened the scope of Activity Agreements to include a broader range of return to work strategies. However, in doing so some underpinning elements of this best practice were lost. One of the key benefits of separation of activation/mutual obligation requirements and individualised strategies was the clarity given to providers helping vs monitoring roles.
In its submission on the design of jobactive, NESA contended that the design of the Job Plan no longer has a focus on a pathway to work:
…the Job Plan appears to return to the more administrative focussed functions of the old Activity Agreement. While NESA understands the need to record a job seekers mutual obligation requirements, one of the important points in the way that the Employment Pathway Plan has evolved is that it has moved past that function and is now, considered a tool for engaging job seekers in their journey to work and the activities required to help get them there. Without the focus on the pathway to work, it becomes a purely punitive and administrative function, which job seekers struggle to see the benefit of undertaking. This may have the unintended consequence of decreasing the motivation of job seekers to participate in work…
Although Job Plans are intended to be tailored, the committee heard that participants are overwhelmingly given stock-standard Job Plans that do not take into account their personal circumstances. Although Job Plans can be used to record voluntary activities, this is often not done. Accordingly, one name withheld submitter questioned the point of the Job Plan 'when the conditions are presented as inflexible'.
Ms Christine Belcher from the National Social Security Rights Network advised that most of the Job Plans they see are generic:
The majority of job plans are standard. Basically, in a nutshell, they say that the person will look for 20 jobs a month. They don't look at the person's individual situation. They don't look at their caring responsibilities, whether there are literacy or numeracy issues or what their work skills are. They are very standard. This often causes problems at a later date because the person is not able to comply with the job plan. Also, when there's been a change in circumstances, often the job plan is not changed to reflect that. We find that, because of the job plan not being appropriate and not being tailored to their needs, people often end up with demerit points, and, at the point that we see them, they may be cut off their payment.
According to a jobactive participant, consultants push for the default Plan:
Even though the provider is supposed to take things like the local job market and the job seeker’s skills into account, they always just try to get you to sign a generic Job Plan that includes 20 job applications each month, and as many meetings as they feel they can force you into.
Before signing their Job Plan, participants can have up to two business days to consider their Plan. However, the committee received evidence that in practice, participants are often not given any opportunity to provide input into their Job Plan or review the Plan. For example, one participant informed the committee that they were never consulted on the contents of their Job Plan:
Each time I was just told to sign it and wasn't encouraged to read it.
Additionally, the committee heard that at times participants are threatened with payment suspension if they do not immediately sign the Job Plan. One participant reported that this was always their experience:
Not once during my period of unemployment did anyone from two jobactive providers do anything other than print out a cut-and-paste document, with all elements being compulsory, and demanding my signature on threat of cutting off my benefits if I did not sign on the spot. Consultants from two jobactive providers denied me any time to consider my job plans, which I think I am entitled to at law.
Mr Poxon, a jobactive participant, described feeling that he wasn’t given time or space despite his mental health issues:
My experience of turning up was just having a job plan put in front of me and basically being told that, if I didn't sign this and whatever was on this, my payments would be cut… There's this general sense that if you step a single toe out of line—at a time when I needed a lot of time and space to get over a pretty horrible mental health episode that just wasn't given.
Some submitters advised that their providers did not tell them the truth about their mutual obligations when they were presented with a Job Plan. For example, a participant who signed her Job Plan later found that what she had been told was not in accordance with jobactive guidelines. According to the participant, when she raised this at her next appointment, the consultant said to her “oh there is so much involved in the guidelines I don’t think you could possibly understand exactly what is required of you”. Another participant was told that her mutual obligations meant she had to provide her payslips to the provider.
The same participant reported that they were required to sign a Job Plan despite it being incorrect and not in accordance with the jobactive deed:
When I tried to have changes (to frequency of appointments) made so that they were in line with the jobactive Deed, I was told that I was wrong and that I could not make the changes. At one point, I was receiving treatment for a back injury and provided medical documentation so that I wouldn’t be placed in any inappropriate activities. Through this process, the case manager also put incorrect information into the system, including a statement that I had “low vision”. When I questioned him about this, he brushed me off by saying “well you wear glasses don’t you?”. I was then required to sign it (if I hadn’t signed it I would probably have lost the payment that I was surviving on). Later when I disputed the fact that this was included and made an official complaint, the manager of the agency implied that it was my fault it was included because I had signed it.
Mr Michael (Mick) Smart, a jobactive participant who spoke at one of the committee's public hearings, advised that he was 'forced to attend the office of his jobactive provider and fill out a new Job Plan while under medical exemption'.
Mr Thomas Studans, another jobactive participant, submitted that his Job Plan limited the hours of work he can do:
In my situation, so that I am subject to less onerous requirements, I am forced to sign to restrict the hours I can work per week, essentially a contract ensuring restraint of my trade. This has been a specific issue when trying to get part-time work, as employers see this restriction as problematic to the staffing of their business…
Many submitters had a negative view of the Job Plan, with one participant submitting that the Job Plan 'is not in fact a job plan, it is a compliance plan'. Another submitter said he felt bullied into signing the Job Plan because his provider demanded that he sign it without explaining why.
Job Plans under future employment services
The Expert Panel’s report into the future of employment services suggests that Job Plans will be tailored to the individual job seeker’s needs and their local labour market. The report also states that there would be regular reviews of job plans, ‘with agreed triggers for out-of-cycle review’.
A crucial issue is whether the proposed future Job Plan would capture mutual obligations—however the report does not address this.
The committee notes that many participants experience the Job Plan process as inflexible and, in some cases, threatening. While recognising mutual obligations as an important aspect of welfare policy; the committee considers that Job Plans should be a constructive pathway for a participants' journey into sustainable employment. It is counterproductive for Job Plans to contain punitive, compliance-based requirements that become additional barriers for participants securing suitable long-term positions.
In the committee's view Job Plans must do a better job of taking into account the personal circumstances of participants. Job Plans should provide a pathway to sustainable employment, and should not simply specify a participant’s mutual obligations. Additionally, participants should be given sufficient time to read and fully understand their obligations under the Plan.
The committee recommends that the government investigate how it can meaningfully improve the negotiation process for, and content of, Job Plans.
Job search requirements
The standard job search requirement for jobactive participants is that they apply for 20 jobs per month. The committee heard that this requirement was not an effective means of improving people's chances of gaining employment. Furthermore, the committee heard that existing requirements place an unnecessary burden on employers who have to review and respond to applications, at times from applicants who are not qualified for the position but who are simply seeking to fulfil their mutual obligations.
According to Ms Emma King, the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), participants are applying for jobs they are unqualified for just to meet job search requirements. The AUWU advised that job search requirements can actually get in the way of effective job search:
Instead of concentrating on looking for suitable work and spending time and effort in composing a quality application there is the pressure to rush through multiple applications to meet Jobactive quota requirements.
A jobactive participant made the same point:
I've found the strict 20 job applications a fortnight requirement to be impossible to genuinely meet, e.g. to actually apply properly to each job. There has never been any focus on how much detail is put into applying for a job, just an emphasis on getting the job-search sheet filled out. I think this has decreased my prospects of getting a job and made me put my energy into writing down fake job applications rather than spending my time creating a reasonable application for a few jobs.
A facilitator for a Career Transition Program submitted that it seemed contradictory for them to be teaching participants how to tailor resumes and job applications when participants had to apply for 20 jobs per month, and 'a good job application for some jobs can take 2–3 days to write'. Likewise, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (GSANZ) pointed out that applications for executive and specialist roles can take time. This issue was also raised by participants who made a submission. For example, one participant noted that applications for positions they are qualified for (teaching, child care or support work) take more time and energy compared to applications for manual labour. The same submitter suggested that the existing job search requirements have disturbing consequences:
I occasionally come across a job I quite like the look of, one I might just be able to get, one of those odd ones for which my particular education and experience make me suitable- even permanent, full time jobs (which are rare)…but I’m already being trained to think: ‘leave it til next month, you’re going to need another 20 jobs to not get a Demerit’, or ‘do the simpler ones first. Do that one you really want if you happen to get time’.
The problems created by the requirement for participants to lodge an arbitrary number of applications each month are particularly acute in regional areas that have a limited number of jobs available. Dr Peter Davidson, Senior Adviser from ACOSS informed the committee that in regional areas, existing job search requirements result in the same employers being continually approached:
…in country regions where there are very few jobs, the default requirement remains 20 jobs a month, and so the same employers are being approached repeatedly…
Dr Peter Davidson from ACOSS informed the committee that jobactive providers can be hesitant to lower the number of jobs a participant has to apply for:
…providers in theory have discretion to reduce the 20 jobs to a lower number such as 15—although even 15 in some cases is too many—but they seem to be so fearful of the repercussions of seemingly going soft on people that they rarely apply that.
The committee also heard that for long-term unemployed participants, applying for 20 jobs and receiving constant rejections can be demoralising. Additionally, the committee heard that for some people, the most effective way to find work was not through standard application processes. For example, Mr Thomas Studans, a jobactive participant with a mental illness, informed the committee that the most effective method for him to find work (networking) was not recognised for the purposes of meeting job search requirements:
The work and career I've cobbled together for myself is largely irrelevant to the welfare system as it stands. I get jobs by networking, not by making formal representations to employers, because I understand that I'm not necessarily considered a competitive candidate due to my mental health requirements. Frequently, the jobs that I apply for to satisfy Centrelink or 'jobactive' requirements are unrelated to the real and measurable work that I do, because it pays cash, or because Employment Services or Centrelink doesn't see it as 'a real job'. This arrangement is inflexible, and doesn't take into account realities of the modern labour market, let alone for those with severe mental illness who have to make do.
As noted above, the committee heard that one of the consequences of job search requirements is that employers can be flooded with poor-quality and irrelevant applications. This was one of the biggest problems that employers experienced with jobactive. Some submitters pointed out that the costs of assessing job applications and matching job seekers has been shifted into business. Ms Megan Petrass, Policy Manager, Workforce Skills, from the New South Wales Business Chamber contended that the burden of reviewing large numbers of applications can be particularly problematic for small and medium enterprises.
Ms Jenny Lambert, Director for Employment, Education and Training at ACCI, emphasised that the number of applications was frustrating for businesses, as more move to online recruiting:
A lot of employers have shifted their recruitment tasks to online, so there are a lot of employers who use the internet for their recruitment. If you're a jobseeker, these sites make it very easy to just press a button and send off multiple applications, and that can be very frustrating if you're an employer.
Submitters broadly supported greater recognition of interviews as a way to meet job search requirements (interviews are not currently counted). According to Ms Lambert from ACCI, a more qualitative approach is needed:
…it's not just about the number of applications; it's also about the effort they're making to present themselves for interviews. I mean, people who turn up to five very relevant interviews could be of equal value than just putting in applications. We have always taken a view that it's the quality and the effort of the work the jobseeker's putting in, not just measured by the number of applications.
Jobactive participants are expected to actively look for work. However the committee notes that the existing job search requirements are crude in their formulation and are not an effective means of getting people into work. The committee is persuaded by evidence that existing job search requirements do not work for employers and can be punitive for participants, particularly in regional areas. Accordingly, the committee is of the view that the government should consider allowing for the default job search requirement to be adjusted in regions and for cohorts where employment prospects are well below-average. In addition, the government should consider expanding the range of activities that count towards mutual obligation requirements, including attending an interview.
The committee recommends that the government consider allowing for default job search requirements to be adjusted in regions and for cohorts where employment prospects are well below-average.
The committee recommends that the government consider expanding the activities that people can use to meet mutual obligation requirements, including attending an interview.
Jobactive participants are required to attend appointments with their provider as part of their mutual obligations and as set out in their Job Plan. In aggregate, jobactive providers schedule more than 12 million of these appointments every year. Most participation failures, which result in the issuing of demerit points and income support payment suspensions, are for missing these appointments.
The committee heard that appointments with providers are dictated by compliance requirements and often do not assist job seekers. For example, Ms Tracey Ashmore, a jobactive participant who gave evidence to the committee, described attending appointments, only to be dismissed without being seen:
Often my JSP [Job Service Provider] agent was left alone to work carrying the load for other staff who were off sick or away for weddings etc, and having to see their clients as well as her own. I would pay my much needed money for bus ticket, go to appointment to be waved at and told "I'm so busy, I'll just see you next appointment" and dismissed.
A number of submitters emphasised that appointments can be very short. Ms Emma King reported that VCOSS has heard of examples of consultants scheduling ten minute 'back-to-back' appointments, which is 'barely time to say hello, let alone make an informed assessment'.
The committee also received evidence that appointments can be hard to reschedule. In some cases, participants are forced to choose between attending paid work or their jobactive appointment. For example, Mr Jeremy Poxon described not being able to reschedule an appointment that conflicted with his casual work:
Because I had a casual job and because I got called into a shift, I couldn't reschedule one of my obligations with my job service provider. I called and called them days earlier to try and reschedule that appointment, which was just a catch-up appointment. I miss that appointment because I was at work, and then I received penalties from my job agent. That is indicative of my broad experience.
GSANZ reported that perversely, participants in their study were missing paid work to attend meetings with their provider.
Additionally, the committee heard that appointments can be expensive and time consuming for some participants to get to. Ms Wright, a jobactive provider consultant, described how difficult it was for some of her participants to get to appointments:
Some of my clients and jobseekers have to travel for 200 kilometres or for three hours just to attend a 15-minute appointment. Many of my jobseekers drive very old, inefficient cars, and some of them don't have vehicles at all and have to rely on family and friends to bring them to their appointments. I've had a couple of jobseekers who've actually been having to hitchhike to get to their appointments. One in particular was hitchhiking 80 kilometres each way. Not only is it a huge safety risk but it also means they're often spending all day on the road to attend a 15-minute appointment.
Similarly, Ms Tracey Ashmore, who lives in a small country town without a car, has to rely on the school bus to get to appointments:
I pay $18 for return ticket into town for a 10 minute appointment (if they have time to see me) and then the rest of the time walk around town until it is time to catch school bus home.
The committee also heard that appointments can be a particular issue for migrants and refugees because they can conflict with settlement activities including English language classes. Submitters informed the committee that participants are missing English language classes so that they can attend appointments with their provider. In this regard, Mr Nick Tebbey, Chief Executive Officer of the Settlement Council of Australia submitted that settlement programs should have clear priority:
…a recently arrived jobseeker who is actively engaging with their English language education should not, in our opinion, be required to choose between the all-important English classes and their jobactive requirements.
Mr Tebbey informed the committee that although English language classes can be counted as part of mutual obligation requirements, they are often not counted. Mr Tebbey attributed this to a lack of awareness from both providers and participants. Mr Tebbey submitted that due to the timing conflict between jobactive appointments and English language classes, newly arrived migrants and refugees should have more choice over when they commence jobactive:
…any arbitrary time limit to commence mutual obligation requirements for newly arrived Australians needs to be abolished. Instead, early in their settlement journey, each jobseeker from a migrant or refugee background needs to be provided with an individually tailored plan for entry into employment services, which is informed by their settlement service provider and which takes into account any specific assistance they may need to achieve settlement foundations and broader job readiness, prior to commencing the general mutual obligations.
Mr Tebbey also suggested that providers should have more discretion to modify mutual obligations for migrants and refugees who are participating in a settlement program:
…it should be open to the jobactive provider in consultation with their settlement provider to say, 'Okay, if you are engaging with the Humanitarian Settlement Program, attending your regular appointments there, engaging with the Adult Migrant English Program, you don't need to do X, Y, Z until we've got you to a point where you're ready to do those things.'
The compliance framework and the consequences for not attending appointments are discussed in Chapter 8.
The committee received concerning evidence that people are missing paid work to attend appointments with their provider. In this case, the jobactive program is itself a direct barrier to employment and is not operating in accordance with the stated intention of the program.
The committee notes that the Expert Panel’s proposed greater use of online self-service will benefit some participants, particularly those that need minimal or no assistance to find a job. Participants who can self-service online would not need to attend regular appointments as they would not have a provider. However the committee remains concerned that some issues with appointments under jobactive will continue under future employment services.
The committee also notes that existing mutual obligations can pose difficulties for humanitarian entrants and migrants who are participating in the Humanitarian Settlement Program and attending Adult Migrant English Program language classes. The committee considers that this cohort should not be missing English language classes so that they can attend appointments with their employment services provider. Accordingly, the committee considers that the government should examine ways to improve provider awareness of approved activities including English language courses for mutual obligations.
The committee recommends that the government examine ways to improve provider awareness of approved activities including Adult Migrant English Program language courses for mutual obligations.
Overview of Work for the Dole and other annual activity requirements
After their first year in jobactive, participants generally have annual activity requirements for six months of each year. These participants are required to complete WfD or other ‘annual activities’ such as part-time work, training or voluntary work:
Job seekers are required to undertake some additional activities—such as Work for the Dole, part-time paid employment, a National Work Experience Programme placement or approved voluntary work—for six months of each year after their first year in jobactive. This six-month period is known as the Work for the Dole Phase.
The annual activity requirements apply in addition to job search and appointment requirements.
Different age groups have different annual activity requirements:
People under 50 who have been in jobactive for 12 months generally have an annual activity requirement of 50 hours per fortnight.
People aged between 50 and 54 who have been in jobactive for 12 months generally have an annual activity requirement of 30 hours per fortnight.
People aged between 55 and 59 who have been in jobactive for 12 months generally have an annual activity requirement of 30 hours per fortnight. Alternatively, they can do 30 hours per fortnight of either: paid work, approved voluntary work, or a combination of both.
People aged 60 to pension age who have been in jobactive for 12 months generally have an annual activity requirement of 10 hours per fortnight. Alternatively, they can do 30 hours per fortnight of either: paid work, approved voluntary work, or a combination of both.
Work for the Dole
WfD is the default activity for participants with annual activity requirements who have not arranged an alternative activity. WfD is managed by employment services providers, who find host organisations for participants. Host organisations are community and not-for-profit organisations. Arrangements for WfD have changed since jobactive was introduced:
The beginnings of jobactive had a fairly complicated model of Work for the Dole coordinators who were responsible for developing the places, but they weren't responsible for overseeing and running them. That was referred back to a jobactive provider who took on that role for no fee…
The committee received evidence that the WfD program is not effective at getting people into work. However this point was contended by the Department of Jobs and Small Business and some other stakeholders.
According to Mr Nathan Smyth, Deputy Secretary for Employment at the Department of Jobs and Small Business, WfD helps participants to 'remain connected with the labour market while they are looking for paid work'. Mr Smyth advised that the purpose of WfD is to 'provide participants with work-like experiences to help them gain employability skills and build confidence while also giving back to the community'. According to Mr Smyth, most participants report positive experiences of WfD:
Almost three-quarters of participants who have completed a survey on Work for the Dole reported they were satisfied with the overall quality of their activity.
Mr Smyth also reported that participants have an increased desire to find paid work:
Surveys of participants have consistently reported that participating in Work for the Dole increased their desire to find paid work—74.9 per cent was the result in the most recent survey.
The Department of Jobs and Small Business surveys participants about their employment outcomes after they leave WfD:
The most recent survey showed that, of the participants who responded, 25.4 per cent were in some form of employment three months after exiting their Work for the Dole activity. Over the life of the program under jobactive 36.7 per cent who exited the program had a job placement recorded.
Some submitters were supportive of the WfD program. For example, Mr Richard Spurrell, Executive General Manager of MAX Solutions, a jobactive provider and previous WfD coordinator, supported the concept of WfD:
Having people who are unable to gain work engaged in some productive, positive activity that connects them with social groups, with people doing similar work and with potential work sources is always seen as positive for many years.
Despite the evidence given in support of WfD, overall the committee received overwhelming evidence that the WfD program is not effective at getting people into work. The committee also heard that WfD is widely perceived as punitive. Additionally, the committee heard that there are a limited number of activities that participants can undertake and people are often not made aware of alternatives to WfD. For example, Mr Thomas Studans submitted that when he signed up for WfD he was not made aware of alternatives.
A 54 year old jobactive participant who completed WfD four times noted that she has never gained employment as a result. Similarly, Ms Kylie Wright, a consultant, informed the committee that WfD is not assisting participants in her region to find work. Ms Wright advised the committee that the activities available are 'very limited' and 'don't reflect situations which will lead to long-term employment'.
A study commissioned by the government found that participation in WfD resulted in an additional 2 percentage point increase in the probability of job seekers having a job placement in the short term.
According to Ms Lambert from ACCI, WfD does not give participants real work experience:
We've been suggesting for some years that Work for the Dole was rarely giving real work experience. That said, obviously there have been some participants in the program who've found it valuable. But certainly there's not been a strong feel from the employer community that it's delivering as much in terms of work readiness as more vocationally focused opportunities could.
Mr Llewellyn Reynders, Policy Manager from VCOSS emphasised that WfD was not helpful and in some cases can be divert participants from more useful activities:
…all the evidence shows that [participating in Work for the Dole] doesn't help. It has very poor outcomes and indeed may divert participants from more useful job search and training activities and work experience. All of the evidence that we have available suggests that we need to give people work experience in actual workplaces, rather than creating specialised programs which don't reflect real jobs and don't give them a whole lot of skills and experience in future workplaces. Nor do we understand that employers look favourably on Work for the Dole experience as a prerequisite for work.
Mr Jeremy Poxon participated in WfD in a small country town in Victoria. Mr Poxon informed the committee that he was not given any choice of activity:
My job agent said…not only could I not choose and organise my own activity there was only one registered Work for the Dole site in town that I could go to and that was an op shop, a Salvos store. My background is in communications, journalism and editing, that kind of work—
I have a masters in writing, editing and publishing. I realise, especially now, that it is very competitive field but I told my jobactive agent that I was also willing to do office work or all sorts broader things but I got ushered into op-shop labour, just folding and sweeping out the back because it was literally the only Work for the Dole host that had been registered in the town.
Mr Poxon describing feeling humiliated by the experience:
I got to the end of that six months and was back where I started but a lot more disheartened and, frankly, humiliated…
Mr Poxon submitted that based on his interactions with other participants, WfD was not fit for purpose:
Just talking personally with other Work for the Dole participants at the site I was at, it certainly wasn't fit for purpose. I had a communications background. Another person had a landscaping background. I think another person there had been an office assistant. And we were all there working for the dole at the back of an op-shop. My experience was certainly not unique against the backdrop of all the calls and messages from Work for the Dole participants who call the AUWU hotline. They also describe being thrown into activities that are completely irrelevant or sometimes even counter to their interests.
A WfD participant described feeling punished by the increase in his hours, which resulted in him having to attend WFD for an additional day but for only one hour:
Recently the federal government has increased my hours for work for the dole from 15 to 25. Because three full days only equates to 24 hours (3 working days * 8 hours = 24) I must now attend a fourth day for 1 single hour to make the requirement of 25. It will take me longer to get there and back than I will be there.
The committee heard that WfD often involves menial labour. Mr Michael (Mick) Smart, a creative artist with an associate degree in visual communications and social sciences, was required to do heavy manual labour:
It wasn't until the second week of my activity…that I got an intake form to find out what my skills and qualifications were. And that was after taking wheelbarrows up and down a four-acre property, digging trenches, clearing bush, re-fencing and doing all these other things.
A jobactive participant submitted that her WfD experience was irrelevant to the skills required in a modern workplace. She was placed in a 'Mosaic' activity which 'consisted of menial sanding on broken tiles in a cold workshop'.
Mr Brendan Taylor, another jobactive participant, submitted that WfD is not valued by employers:
Whenever I mention WFTD employers faces drop, some employers I’ve spoken to think WFTD is a parole requirement for people who have been released from jail…
The committee heard that WfD can in some cases be a barrier to employment. A jobactive participant submitted that she was effectively discouraged from accepting job interviews if they clashed with WfD:
Work for the Dole and other activities (including appointments with the jobactive agency) did not make it easy to seek employment or attend interviews, in fact quite the opposite. I was made to feel uneasy about accepting job interviews as it would ‘interfere with’ WfD or an appointment and I was incorrectly told that the missed WfD days would need to be made up.
The committee also heard from Mr David Toscano, Team Leader at Northern Community CareWorks, a WfD host in Melbourne. Mr Toscano advocated the benefits of WfD:
It builds confidence. It puts them in a team environment where they can be working together, problem solving, dealing with complex issues at times and dealing with challenges, time requirements and all of these different pressures that you are going to find any work situation. They are expected to turn up on time.
The committee heard that not all participants had negative experiences of WfD. Ms Kim Pendlebury, a jobactive participant who has undertaken WfD at CareWorks, stated that she 'never had anything but positive experiences there'. Ms Pendlebury considered that although WfD had given her skills in retail, it had not improved her employment prospects.
Mr Toscano informed the committee that they do not receive much feedback on system improvements or if participants have secured employment:
…we don't get a lot of accurate feedback through the job agencies about the success stories, unless the participant volunteers that back to us. So, those feedback loops are significantly lacking, both in improvements to the system and where there are successes.
A work health and safety assessment is required for every WfD activity, and also for each participant to identify whether an activity is appropriate for that participant. The Department of Jobs and Small Business advised the committee that safety is a fundamental part of WfD and 'a priority of the program'. Ms Janine Pitt from the Department informed the committee that every activity is required to have adequate supervision. Depending on the circumstances, this can include line-of-sight supervision.
However, the committee received concerning evidence about safety issues and inadequate redress for participants who are injured whilst undertaking WfD. An EY Report found that 36 per cent of activities did not fully meet the average safety benchmarks, scoring less than 91 per cent compliance. In April 2016, Josh Park-Fing, who was 18 years of age, died from a head injury when he fell from a trailer on a WfD site in Queensland. At the time of writing, the government has not released the report into his death. The Department of Jobs and Small Business informed the committee that WfD supervisors can themselves be volunteers.
Mr Poxon reported that the AUWU receives contact from many WfD participants who have safety concerns:
…we get a lot of calls from Work for the Dole participants who actually fear their safety… according to the AUWU 2015-16 National advocacy hotline report about 30 per cent of the calls we got through the hotline were people with issues of Work for the Dole safety. Sadly, over the years, we've received too many calls from people who've been injured on these sites as well.
The AUWU provided a testimonial from a participant who stated that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was not supplied automatically for WfD participants. Similarly, a submitter described working in an environment without sufficient protections for participants:
…there was never enough personal protective equipment, or it was inadequate. Some jobseekers were not using the PPE due to the fact the glasses could not be seen through properly. We were not provided with dust masks for about two weeks and were sanding tiles without protection.
Another participant described a lax attitude to health and safety at her WfD site, an op-shop:
…there was the constant potential risk of viral/bacterial/fungal infections that could be spread from donations to people. The OH&S rule was, that if you were sorting “raw” donations (meaning donations that had just come in), you had to wear gloves, but after that, it was by your own discretion. Even this rule was not entirely enforced and most of the volunteers and Supervisors chose not to wear gloves while out the back sorting, unless the inspector was coming around that day.
The same participant contracted a bacterial infection and was told by her GP that the most likely place that she had picked up the infection was from her WfD activity. She had been working in the op-shop in a heatwave just before contracting the infection:
Just before I contracted the infection, the shop air-con broke right in the middle of a heatwave, and we had to endure some 40+ degree days. The sweltering temperatures made the clothes in the shop all manky, a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The air-con remained broken for 2 months until it finally got fixed in early autumn.
A young woman who provided a testimonial to the AUWU stated that she was made to work with people who she 'felt were not safe for a young woman to work with alone'. Another female participant submitted that she was required to do a WfD placement with an organisation despite her abusive ex-partner working for the organisation. Another participant who did WfD with an organisation for the disabled reported having to drive clients in her own car:
I was supposed to be in the administration department, but they insisted I work with disabled people. I found on occasions that I was doing tasks that I felt untrained to do and I even drove clients in my own car to an activity which I was told later was illegal.
A 55 year old submitter to the inquiry informed his provider about a pre‑existing condition and was still placed in a WfD activity that involved hard physical labour. He experienced severe internal bleeding, induced by his WfD activity:
In November 2017 I told my jobactive provider that I had been diagnosed with a stone in my bladder which caused internal bleeding any time I moved around too vigorously. Despite telling the provider of this potentially life-threatening condition, a work for the dole requirement was imposed on me at a work for the dole host that required hard physical labour.
In December 2017 I experienced such severe bleeding that I collapsed and later was admitted to the emergency department of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital…
The work for the dole host now claims to have no recollection of my collapse, nor is there an incident report.
Mr Michael (Mick) Smart was 30 years old when he was injured whilst participating in WfD:
Three years ago I suffered an injury during Work for the Dole activities. I have suffered major mobility issues. Basically, my life has been destroyed and I'm a shadow of my former self. I have a chronic pain condition. I have mobility issues and I now walk with a cane and my partner now takes care of me.
Mr Smart described the full extent and impact of his injury to the committee:
I have had a diagnosis of disc herniation, disc protrusion and nerve impingement. It has given me sciatica and loss of bowel and bladder sensation. I have internal bleeding. I pass blood with every bowel movement. I also have abnormal straightening of the cervical spine in my neck and possible radiculopathy, which causes nerve pain through my shoulder and numbness and tingling in my left hand. And I don't sleep anymore. With my first injury, I fell down a retaining wall. I reported it. I thought I was okay. I kept working into the next week. I lifted a heavily loaded wheelbarrow and a sharp shooting pain went up my spine and dropped me down on my knees. Pretty much from that point on, I have been losing the ability to walk. I thought I would lose my legs. I was going to end my life, if not for my partner at the time. I ended up getting a walking aid…
It is classed as permanent and I have been told I am going to be dealing with this for the rest of my life. So it has been pretty catastrophic to my life. I am basically a different person because of this.
WfD participants do not have access to insurance cover equivalent to workers compensation. Mr Smart noted that there is no WorkCover for WfD injuries:
I have basically been my own physiotherapist, my own doctor and my own psychologist since this occurred, because there is no WorkCover under the Work for the Dole program. Basically, I have taken out advance payments to pay for my own specialists and waited six to eight months in between.
Undermining paid work and valuable volunteering
The committee received evidence that WfD can directly undermine paid employment opportunities. According to the AUWU, some participants are being forced to attend WfD instead of paid employment because their employment does not meet the criteria for an outcome payment.
Some submitters raised the concern that WfD may cause the displacement of people in paid employment and socially valuable volunteer work. Ms Kylie Wright, a consultant, informed the committee that most of the WfD activities in her area are activities that would ordinarily be taken up by volunteer staff. A submitter noted that participants who already do valuable volunteer work within established organisations are instead made to do WfD:
Some welfare recipients who are already volunteers when they have become unemployed have been told the work they are doing is not recognised by Jobactive despite having established roles and relationships within their chosen volunteer organisation, including a young man working for the regional emergency services and a person volunteering for Lifeline. It was suggested that these men participate in a work for the dole scheme instead.
GSANZ provided the following example of a highly skilled medical librarian who has been nominated for Citizen of the Year for her municipality. She also ran an op-shop and was on several boards. However, the medical librarian's volunteering was not recognised as an approved activity:
Gloria holds a PhD and has expertise as a medical librarian and volunteers these skills at her local hospital since she is unable to work due to complex caring duties. However, her provider has said her volunteering is not authorised as meeting obligation requirements, and has told her instead to ‘volunteer’ in one of two work for-the-dole factory jobs.
The WfD factory that the medical librarian was assigned to was a 40 minute drive away, and the librarian did not drive.
Mr Rohan Musch, an admitted solicitor and jobactive participant who volunteers with a community legal centre, was told this was not an approved activity:
I am an admitted solicitor, I currently volunteer with a community legal centre. However, it was intimated to me that this wouldn’t meet requirements for work for the dole. I would like to know how my standing in the back end of a shop sorting dirty clothes would be more beneficial to the community than my providing free legal services to those who don’t have the ability to hire a lawyer.
Similarly, a volunteer firefighter with 20 years' experience was told that his firefighting service was not an approved activity. Volunteering (as an alternative to WfD) is discussed in more detail below.
People incorrectly forced into Work for the Dole
The committee also received evidence that some participants were being incorrectly assigned to do WfD when they were in fact exempt. A young woman who provided a testimonial to the AUWU stated that after undertaking WfD she discovered that she was not obliged to due to part time employment:
Later on I found out that I wasn't even legally required to do work for the dole because I was already working part time but my employment agency told me I had to!
A jobactive participant submitted that because providers can suspend payments, they are able to coerce participants into attending activities:
I was put into 3 Work for the Dole activities while I was working a casual job and so getting a reduced rate of NewStart, which according to the jobactive deed I didn't have to do (something I only found out after doing two Work for the Dole activities… Centrelink who confirmed I wasn't obligated to do work for the dole…
Travel and additional payments
The committee heard that travelling to WfD can impose a substantial financial cost on participations. It can also be difficult for participants to get to their WfD site, for example, if public transport is not available. Individuals who participate in WfD are entitled to receive an extra $20.80 per fortnight. However, the committee heard that some WfD participants were not receiving the extra payment. One participant who provided a confidential submission advised that he had asked for the payment but never once received it. According to the participant, when he asked around, about one third of the WfD people he knows also said they have never received it.
The Department of Jobs and Small Business told the committee that participating in WfD gives participants an increased desire to find paid work. The committee is unsurprised by this statement: not because WfD improves employment prospects—for many it clearly does not—but because it is obvious that a punitive WfD experience (common for many) would give participants an increased desire to be rid of the welfare merry-go-round. Being at risk of injury doing WfD would also give participants an increased desire to find paid work.
In 2016, Josh Park Fing died on a WfD site. While any work experience program involves health and safety risks, the committee is concerned that for some placements there is a lack of proper oversight of WfD.
The committee notes that current insurance arrangements for WfD are not equivalent to worker's compensation. Accordingly, the committee considers that the government should review the adequacy of insurance arrangements for WfD participants.
With regard to the evidence that WfD does not substantially improve the employment prospects of participants, the committee considers that the government must examine how to improve the employment outcomes for WfD participants. In this regard, the primary objective of WfD must be to improve the employability of participants.
The committee also considers that participants must be made aware of appropriate alternatives of WfD, particularly given the modest benefits of WfD for employment outcomes. The committee also considers that the government can do more to provide alternatives to WfD. In this regard, the committee is of the view that the government should consider extending eligibility for other labour market programs, such as Transition to Work, to allow those eligible for WfD to choose other programs (if available) as an alternative.
The committee is concerned by evidence that WfD may in some cases undermine the employment of people in paid work and socially valuable volunteer work. The committee considers that the government should investigate how to ensure that this does not occur.
The committee recommends that the government strengthen obligations for providers to inform participants about appropriate alternatives to Work for the Dole and remove incentives for providers to refer participants to Work for the Dole in preference to other programs.
The committee recommends that the government consider extending eligibility for other labour market programs, such as Transition to Work, to allow those required to undertake Work for the Dole to choose other programs (if available in their area) as an alternative.
The committee recommends that the government investigate how to ensure that Work for the Dole does not in practice displace people from paid work and volunteer work.
The committee recommends that the government review Work for the Dole with a view to improving the employability of participants.
The committee recommends that the government review the safety requirements for Work for the Dole and consider whether current insurance arrangements are adequate.
Training and courses
Training under jobactive can be voluntary or compulsory. Training is compulsory if it is included in a participant's Job Plan as part of their mutual obligations. Jobactive participants can choose to undertake accredited education and training courses to satisfy their annual activity requirements. Individual providers may also offer participants training arranged by the provider.
Submitters did not always indicate if the training they undertook was voluntary or part of their mutual obligations. Accordingly, issues raised concerning training are discussed in this section, although some submissions may not relate to mutual obligations.
The committee received evidence that in some cases training activities and courses have been poor quality. For example, one submitter described being required to participate in a course with very out-of-date material:
I was forced to undertake a “week long” course, which amounted to several unmonitored modules on a computer that I completed within a day. These modules targeted resume writing, job application skills and the step by step process to apply for a job. Unfortunately the videos and software that was being used was extremely dated. In particular, when the videos referred to the internet it was clear that it was from the late 1990s or early 2000s. These videos also suggested faxing applications, which in 2015 was unfeasible. Even more ridiculous was the embarrassing excuse for a resume that the software generated and the case managers encouraged everyone to use for their job applications.
The committee also received evidence that participants are put into courses that are below their existing skill level and/or irrelevant to helping the participants find work. For example, a testimonial provided by the AUWU stated that their provider made them attend a course called 'Retail Ready' even though the participant had more than 10 years' experience in retail. A jobactive participant submitted that they were forced to attend a workshop on writing a CV that was 'completely unnecessary' because they already had a CV written by their Alumni at Murdoch University. The Edmund Rice Centre WA reported that a person from a non-English speaking background with Australian tertiary qualifications was forced into inappropriate courses:
...the person was forced by the Job services Provider to attend a government-funded course which teaches people to use office equipment, full-time. This activity was inappropriate because the person already had highly developed skills with the office equipment (as well as business management skills), and the full time course activities have prevented the person from attending their small business development needs. The same person was later required to attend a two-week full-time CV writing course, developed for people with low literacy and job capacity skills. With the same Jobactive provider, the person was prescribed to attend two sessions with representatives of a cleaning company which was recruiting within the Jobactive agency. The inadequacy of the prescribed activities was specifically evident considering that the qualifications held by the person were tertiary legal qualifications. The activities also did not have a capacity to increase the person's income and interfered with the person's effort to organise their own small business. Such an approach by the Jobactive provider created instability for the person, based on un‑predictability of the requirements imposed on the person, leading to giving up on developing a professional services business.
A facilitator for the Career Transition Program reported that some participants were referred to training by their provider when they did not possess the prerequisite digital literacy.
The committee also received evidence that training requirements were in some cases directly interfering with paid employment. The AUWU reported that some jobactive participants were being forced to attend employability training instead of attending employment:
…a number of unemployed workers actually being encouraged by their employment service provider, under the threat of a penalty, to attend a employability training activity instead of attending employment as their employment does not meet the criteria for an outcome payment. The AUWU is aware of a number of unemployed workers who have lost their jobs in this fashion.
The committee also heard that some providers were not inclined to approve training activities unless the provider received a financial benefit, such as through guaranteed employment at the end of the course.
The Expert Advisory Panel recommended that employment services participants should be able to meet mutual obligation points through a choice of activities such as job search and training. According to the Panel's report, the future 'digital and data ecosystem' for employment services participants would include links to training. The Panel's report notes training has been shown to be an effective intervention for highly disadvantaged job seekers. Additionally, training can help prepare workers for 'employment in new and emerging industries with identified skills shortages'.
The committee notes evidence that under jobactive, some participants have been put into training that is below their existing skill level or irrelevant to improving their chances of securing meaningful employment. Additionally, the committee notes that some participants find it hard to get training approved as an activity.
The committee supports a greater emphasis on appropriate training, in line with the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel. The committee also supports the Panel's recommendation for greater choice of activities to meet mutual obligations, including training.
Volunteer work with approved organisations can count towards a jobactive participant's mutual obligations. There were different views during the inquiry about the benefits of volunteering for employment outcomes. Some stakeholders submitted that volunteering, whilst valuable to the community, often does not improve employment outcomes. For example, one submitter suggested that volunteering only leads to more volunteering:
Volunteering does not guarantee an underemployed or unemployed person a more stable and better renumerated role, or a paid role at all. In my experience it leads to more volunteer work and eventually people become professional volunteers…
In contrast, other stakeholders suggested that volunteering can benefit job seekers. According to Volunteering Victoria, volunteering can provide the following benefits:
Creates a more level playing field for rural communities where jobs, training and educational facilities are less accessible by providing greater diversity of skill development compared to traditional pathways.
Increase in civic engagement, social responsibility and feelings of involvement individuals out of the workforce.
Participation in volunteering has been shown to have positive effects on mental health, by increasing civic engagement and providing a sense of purpose.
Simultaneously helps to improve perceptions of job seekers as those not contributing to society.
Creation of additional community support networks.
Participation in volunteering programs ensures higher exposure to a greater variety of careers and professions whilst simultaneously obtaining new skills and providing benefit to the community.
Evidence shows that those who volunteer see higher chances of employment.
A recent survey conducted by SEEK indicated that 95% of employers consider volunteering just as credible as paid work.
The committee heard that the contribution people make through volunteering was not fully recognised under the current system for mutual obligations. Ms Imogen Ebsworth, Director of Policy and Research, Anglicare Australia, emphasised the important role that volunteers play in the Australian society:
We have a tendency at the moment to say, 'Only paid employment is a contribution to society,' but it doesn't really fit with our reality. At the moment, there are however many hundreds of volunteer firefighters on the frontline in Tasmania, the SES is deploying across Queensland because of floods and, on any given day in Australia, there are nearly three million Australians providing unpaid care to loved ones, which we rely on for the rest of our systems to work.
The committee also heard that the limited number of approved organisations for volunteering meant some participants could not volunteer with their chosen organisation. Mr Thomas Studans, a jobactive participant, contended that volunteer options should 'reflect the membership of the peak bodies in each state'. Some submitters argued that participants should be able to source their own volunteer activities as part of their activity requirements. GSANZ submitted that if an organisation is not registered, the provider should make an assessment of the activity.
The committee heard that volunteering support services organisations who assist employment services providers to try and place participants are not receiving funding for this work. Ms Lavanya Kala from Volunteering Australia suggested that employment services providers were passing on the work they were contracted to do to volunteer support services.
The committee notes that the limited number of approved organisations was an issue for some participants who were not able to volunteer with their chosen organisation.
The committee also notes that there are different views on the benefits of volunteering for employment outcomes.
Earlier in this report the committee recommended that the government strengthen obligations for providers to inform participants about appropriate alternatives to Work for the Dole. This recommendation is set out above in the 'Work for the Dole' section.
Drug or alcohol treatment
Previously, jobactive participants could be granted an exemption from their mutual obligations for drug and alcohol treatment programs. This exemption was recently removed and replaced with a new policy. As of 1 January 2018, participation in drug or alcohol treatment programs can count towards a participant's annual activity requirements. This means that participants remain on the caseload of their jobactive provider whilst undertaking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.
The recent policy changes also mean that participants in Streams A and B can have a drug and alcohol treatment program recognised as an approved activity. Previously, only Stream C participants could have drug and alcohol treatment as an approved activity.
Under the new arrangements, whilst a person is receiving treatment, their obligation to look for work is suspended:
…individuals…will need to notify their job search provider that they are entering treatment, which will prompt their job search provider to alter their plan to suspend their obligation to look for work—this arrangement will stand whilst the person remains in treatment.
Non-residential drug and alcohol treatment programs can also be included in a participant's Job Plan to meet their mutual obligation requirements.
The committee received evidence that there have been issues with the implementation of these policy changes, including inconsistent interpretation of the new policy by jobactive providers. According to Ms Jill Rundle, Chief Executive Officer of the Western Australian Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA) there was no consultation with the sector prior to the budget announcement. WANADA advised that following the announcement, consultation was limited and as a result there have been a number of unintended consequences.
The committee heard that treatment organisations now have to negotiate with jobactive providers. Ms Rundle from WANADA provided the following example of a residential therapeutic community that now has to negotiate with 12 different providers:
When someone accesses a residential or therapeutic community, it is a full‑time program for three, six or sometimes 12 months. It is quiet an intense program. With the changes, that organisation or that service has reported that they have 12 network providers that they are having to negotiate with. Some of those providers have up to three officers as well. They don't just have a single person who they are negotiating with. They have a number of people who they are having to work with.
According to Ms Rundle, as a result of the changes, people are receiving inappropriate Job Plans and having their payments suspended whilst in residential care:
…plans requiring them to continue looking for work even though they are in this intensive treatment program. They have had requests for additional medical certificates. They typically have, in the past, provided medical certificates. They've been required to attend multiple external meetings as well, despite being in this residential, intensive, full-time program.
…in some cases people accessing the treatment services have had their payments suspended while they're in residential care. For people accessing residential care, a contribution of their benefits goes towards covering food, transport and the costs of living in those facilities. Having their payments cut obviously impacts on services, but of course, primarily, it significantly impacts on the wellbeing of the clients accessing those services.
The committee heard that some providers have a lack of awareness about drug and alcohol issues. Ms Rundle advised that providers are in some cases not recognising medical certificates that identify the need for alcohol and other drug treatment. Additionally, after treatment, some providers have been finding participants inappropriate work, such as in a pub, which could trigger a relapse.
The committee also heard that the new policy has had a detrimental impact on rehabilitation and treatment service quality. Ms Rundle advised that staff of treatment organisations are now 'spending up to 30 per cent of their time just dealing with the jobactive processes of their clients'. Anglicare provided the following example:
…a staff member providing housing support services to a client advised both they and the client’s drug and alcohol counsellor spend considerable time every appointment discussing and supporting the client to meet their jobactive requirements. The constant work to meet these requirements and the threat of suspension of payments means the client and their support staff cannot focus on the fundamental work of improving their mental health, recovery from addiction and maintaining their housing.
WANADA informed the committee that some alcohol and other drug services have experienced a reduction in service demand since the introduction of the policy changes. According to WANADA, one organisation reported 'a 2.1% reduction in clients treated at the service since 1 July 2018 and approximately 8% decrease in client attended occasions of service over the same period (i.e. “did not attend” when an appointment was made)'.
WANDA also advised that some non-residential services have reported 'tensions between mutual obligations and treatment':
There are examples of Job Active Providers requiring individuals to access alcohol and other drug services as a mutual obligation without consultation with the service to assess treatment readiness. This has presented barriers in achieving optimum treatment outcomes. This, in turn, has presented difficulties for counselling staff who have increased non-motivational/resistant clients who need to attend treatment sessions to secure their welfare benefits. Job providers are not clinicians, or able to determine treatment needs. Referrals to treatment services should be for assessment only.
According to Ms Rundle, there have also been multiple instances of jobactive providers and Centrelink seeking changes to medical certificates to remove or amend the identification of alcohol and other drug issues:
People have reported that their job network providers have been saying, 'Just put down that they have a mental health problem. Just change it.' They have actually been contacting GPs as well to make these amendments.
Ms Rundle suggested this may be happening because it is easier to satisfy obligations due to mental illness.
The Department of Jobs and Small Business advised that it had not been made aware of any allegations of providers contacting doctors seeking amendments to medical certificates to record mental health issues rather than alcohol or drug problems.
The committee notes that the new policy for drug and alcohol treatment has had a number of implementation issues, including inconsistent application of the policy by providers. The committee considers that the government must take immediate action to ensure providers are correctly applying the new policy.
The committee is also concerned about reports that doctors are being inappropriately pressured to change medical certificates due to the recent policy changes. The committee considers that the government should investigate these reports.
The committee recommends that the government take steps to improve provider awareness of recent policy changes for participation in drug or alcohol treatment programs counting towards annual activity requirements.
The committee recommends that the government investigate if doctors are being inappropriately pressured to change medical certificates due to the recent policy changes for participation in drug or alcohol treatment programs counting towards annual activity requirements, and to address this situation as necessary.