JobSeeker and mutual obligations are changing. Here’s what that could mean for you

From changes to the JobSeeker rate to a new phone line connecting employers to the government, here's how the new welfare measures will affect people in Australia receiving unemployment benefits.

People are seen in long queues outside the Centrelink office in Southport on the Gold Coast, Monday, March 23, 2020. Centrelink offices around Australia have been inundated with people attempting to register for the Jobseeker allowance in the wake of busi

People are seen in long queues outside the Centrelink office in Southport on the Gold Coast in March, 2020. Source: AAP

On Tuesday, the federal government unveiled some big changes for job seekers in Australia.

The JobSeeker payment, formerly known as Newstart, is being boosted permanently – but not by the amount some had been calling for.

Mutual obligations are also returning, including a new "employer reporting line" that is already causing controversy.

Here’s a rundown of the major changes and what it means for unemployed Australians.

JobSeeker boosted - by $3.57 a day

With the coronavirus supplement being wound up at the end of March, the government has permanently boosted the levels of some welfare payments, most significantly, JobSeeker.

It means people on the payment - currently about 1.2 million Australians - will get an extra $50 a fortnight, or $3.57 a day, from 1 April. 

Overall, the payment will then be $615.70 a fortnight, or around $44 a day.

While it’s higher than the $565.70-a-fortnight rate that was in place prior to the pandemic, it’s a decrease on what many are receiving now while the coronavirus supplement is in place: $715.70 a fortnight.

Several other payments will be boosted by $50 a fortnight as well: Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Austudy, ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Special Benefit, Widow Allowance, Partner Allowance and the Farm Household Allowance.

The income-free area for JobSeeker, Farm Household Allowance, Parenting Payment (Partnered) and Youth Allowance recipients will also be boosted by $150 a fortnight from 1 April, meaning if you’re on those payments you can earn more money before they’re reduced.

Mutual obligations and the ‘employer reporting line’ 

The government has also announced a strengthening of mutual obligation requirements.

Face-to-face appointments with providers are restarting in early March, subject to state and territory health requirements.

The minimum number of job searches you’ll need to do if you’re a job seeker is increasing to 15 on 1 April and then returning to the pre-pandemic number of 20 at 1 July.

You’ll also have to do a short course or work experience after six months.

But perhaps most significantly, an “employer reporting line” is being set up, enabling employers to directly contact the government about people who turn down job opportunities.

Announcing the scheme, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash explained: “If someone does apply for a job, they’re offered the job and they’re qualified for the job but they say no, the employer will now be able to contact my department and report that person as failing to accept suitable employment.”

“This will then mean that my department can follow up with that person, or alternatively, Jobactive can follow up with that person to ascertain exactly why they said no to a suitable job. In the event that they do not have a valid reason, they will be breached for that.”

What are people saying about the changes?

That depends who you ask. 

Welfare and anti-poverty organisations, opposition politicians and welfare recipients have criticised the boost to JobSeeker as concerning, a "heartless betrayal" of unemployed Australians and "exceptionally cruel". Many had been calling for a much larger increase.

Mr Morrison defended the size of the boost when questioned about it by reporters on Tuesday, saying “there will always be suggestions by some that it should be more”.

“That's why a government has to exercise judgement in getting that balance right, not just in the setting of the payment, but also the conditions that sit around the provisions of that payment,” he said.

There has also been criticism of the "employer reporting line" - which some people on social media have dubbed "DobKeeper" - with fears it could lead to vulnerable staff being bullied by employers. 

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the measures announced on Tuesday were “clearly about getting the balance right”.

“We need a system that is fair and sustainable for the people who need it and the taxpayers who pay for it,” she said. 

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Published 24 February 2021 at 4:50pm
By SBS News