Countless Australian job seekers could find themselves facing payment delays for not reporting to Centrelink, after technical difficulties took over the federal government’s new digital employment services platform.
The new system, Workforce Australia, was launched on Monday and replaces the outgoing JobActive platform, which was dispensed with by the new Albanese government without any sort of transition period or consultation from unemployment and welfare groups.
On Monday, the platform became the source of widespread “fear and distress” among welfare recipients across the country, as countless job seekers were unable to log into the platform while others struggled to use vital location services.
Jeremy Poxon, a spokesperson for the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) and welfare recipient, told VICE that when he was finally able to access the platform it suggested he apply for jobs in a city where he doesn’t live, while others are being dead-named (when a transgender person is referred to by their birth name when they have changed their name as part of their gender transition).
“And the risk is then if you apply for these suggested jobs as part of your mutual obligations, an employer can report you to the dob-seeker line, because it looks like you aren’t applying for a reasonable job,” Poxon said.
Last week, Poxon led protestors to the doorstep of the government’s new employment minister, Tony Burke, to call for the abolition of mutual obligations—a set of gamified tasks a welfare recipient has to complete in order to receive welfare payments well below the poverty line. The protest also demanded a more considerate approach to phasing out the JobActive platform, so that job seekers wouldn’t find themselves in the position they eventually did just three days later.
“Basically, if [people can’t report today] they’re not going to get their income supplement, right?,” Poxon said.
“I think the big concern with today is that people need to report today [to get paid]; people in a cost of living emergency rely on their regular income support. This [flawed] new system comes in as predicted, because it happens every time the government uses IT—particularly in the welfare space,” he said.
“There’s always outages and teething issues and [this is] something we predicted and feared would result in today. They didn’t build it with the capacity to have hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people [use it].”
According to the Antipoverty Centre, three in four job seekers who have so far offered up feedback say they have struggled to login to the new Workforce Australia platform. The group, along with the AUWU, says Burke has not responded to their proposal to suspend all penalties for a minimum of 90 days, as the nation’s welfare infrastructure is uprooted and relocated.
“This is causing so much unnecessary fear and distress to those of us on payments and we should not be paying the price of the government’s refusal to listen to us,” said Jay Coonan, an Antipoverty Centre spokesperson and JobSeeker recipient.
“Changes to employment services in 2015 and 2018 saw dramatic spikes in the number of people penalised while trying to adjust,” he said.
“The worst effects were felt by First Nations people, and we know that every problem that affects welfare recipients disproportionately harms First Nations, trans, homeless, disabled and other marginalised people.”
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations issued a statement on Monday afternoon saying the platform had been experiencing “intermittent issues” that went on to impact some of its mobile users. It said the issues had since been resolved, and that the site is “now performing well”.
Job seekers have continued to report ongoing issues across the platform.
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