On this page, we will analyse the obligations of Newstart recipients under the Government’s new jobactive system.
A brief summary of the Government’s Mutual Obligation Requirements for Newstart recipients is available in the chart below. For a quick explanation of the deliberately confusing acronyms used by the Government, click here.
Work for the dole
Let’s start with the centrepiece of the jobactive system: Work for the Dole.
Don’t be fooled into thinking work for dole is the only option open to you if you are currently unemployed. Wading through the endless and repetitive guidelines, a few things stand out.
With the introduction of the new jobactive system on 1 July, all Newstart and Youth Allowance (other) recipients between the ages of 18-30 will be required to Work for the Dole for 25 hours a week, up from 15 hours a week.
Annual activity requirements are lower for those over the age of 30 at 15 hrs per week (fully capable of full time work).
If you are a principle carer or have a temporary illness that reduces your work availability or obligation hours, the mutual obligation hours are lower again.
For example, a principle carer with children 8 or over, aged under 30 has a higher number of participation hours at 15hr per week, than the same situation but aged over 30 at 7.5 hrs per week.
Neither can be forced to agree to work for dole as a compulsory measure, but if you do agree to do it and sign a job plan stating this, it will then be compulsory. This is why knowing your rights is more important than ever before.
It is very easy for a job seeker to be fooled under this new system. If the staff member you are allocated to has misunderstood training, or your Employment Service Provider has simply misinterpreting the information then the obligations you are agreeing to might not be a true reflection of the guidelines or in fact social security law.
Avoiding Work for the Dole
There are a number of circumstances where Newstart recipients will be excused from Work for the Dole.
For job seekers aged between 18-49 who are undertaking an approved activity they will not be required to undertake Work for the Dole.
An approved activities as defined by the Mutual Obligation Framework are:
- Part-Time Employment
- Unpaid Work Experience Placements
- Voluntary Work
- part-time study/training (in a Certificate III or higher)
- accredited language, literacy and numeracy courses, which can include
o Skills for Education and Employment
o Adult Migrant English Programme
- Defence Force Reserves
- Other government programmes, including state government programmes and the Green Army Programme.
Backing this information up, one jobseeker informed us that he was able to get his full-time non-non-accredited study on his Job Plan, which should excuse him from Work For the Dole. We will update once verification is received, but for now, be sure to request that your study be put on your Job Plan.
For Single Parents judged to be Primary Care Providers (PCP) and job seekers with a Partial Work Capacity (PWC), there are even more circumstances where Providers cannot enforce Work for the Dole (Click here for more information regarding Primary Care Providers).
Below is an excerpt from the Mutual Obligation Requirement Framework:
Over 55s receiving Newstart are also given more flexibility:
Job seekers aged 55 years and over who are meeting their Full-Time Mutual Obligation Requirements through 30 hours per fortnight of paid work (including self-employment) or approved Voluntary Work (or a combination) cannot be required to:
• simultaneously look for additional work
• undertake other activities.
However, they must remain connected with a Provider (although they are Suspended on a Provider’s caseload). They must attend any notified Appointments with their Provider; however, these Appointments should only be related to employment opportunities or job referrals. These Appointments must be made around the times of their paid and/or Voluntary Work hours.
These job seekers still have Full-Time Mutual Obligation Requirements and, as such, are also required to attend job interviews with Employers and accept increased hours of paid work until they obtain a Full-Time job or no longer receive income support.
DHS will make an initial Appointment with the Provider for job seekers aged 55 years and over even if they are already satisfying their Mutual Obligation Requirements at their first contact with DHS. Job seekers who fail to attend this Appointment or any other notified Provider Appointments, or who fail to accept referrals to jobs, may be subject to action under the job seeker compliance framework. See the Employment Provider Services—Job Seeker Compliance Framework Guideline for additional information.
PCW 0 to 14 hours per week or TRWC 0 to 14 hours per week who fully meet their Mutual Obligation Requirements by attending quarterly appointments with DHS do not need to remain connected with a Provider and can be Suspended or Exited from the Provider’s caseload.
Prioritising Training and Study
Study seems to be the main area where information may not be fully correct. Anyone any age can choose a line of study to follow, but the funding of these courses is what is no longer available through the Employment Service Providers themselves especially when the Work For the Dole phase begins.
It can be used only if a job is guaranteed, making it harder to achieve but there are still options for those with no prior level certificates or diplomas (note: the Government will not fund you to complete a course below your current requirements). The course will be funded, and this activity should be sufficient to meet your obligations. There are some exclusions to this as there often is, checking through the Centrelink website, there are links to courses of study that are approved.
The option to study at Tafe is open and it can be paid for via the VetFeeHelp or FeeHelp programs, and University through HECS-HELP, these will give you a debt to be repaid when you reach income over $50,000. Testing if you meet the AUSTUDY rules can give you the time without requirements to complete your studies.
Alternatively, for those on Newstart and Youth Allowance (other) who are studying a course that is not accredited by Centrelink, your study can count to your Annual Activity Requirement but will not provide any additional money to cover expenses.
The ability to be connected to the internet, get to study if in a classroom, and purchase any books will be the biggest problem for those taking this avenue. But this can be achievable in some cases. Fares assistance will be available to those on Youth Allowance completing studies.
For those who were involved in study before the jobactive system took over, you must be allowed to finish this line of study that you have started. If it was in your employment plan, you should be allowed to finish it
Please note: Although you must be allowed to finish this study undertaken before, if the course is not accredited study then you can be made to do other activities to fulfil your Annual Activity Requirement such as Work for the Dole, Voluntary Work etc. If it is an approved study, then you should be eligible for AusStudy.
Negotiate with your Provider – All Barriers to Work must be Considered
There is also a range of factors that must be considered when working out your activities and requirements. If you have increased care for family or children, this has to be taken into consideration; transport problems also have to be considered. It is written in the guidelines.
If you have factors you feel are not being considered, seek clarification from the department of employment. Providers are obliged to consider barriers that you identify, such as lack of childcare options, separated parent with the lesser care but still a percentage of care, transport restrictions, alcohol or drug problems, housing problems.
It may be uncomfortable to reveal these things but to truly be of assistance there might be a need to be open about these problems. Remember they are bound by the privacy act and any breaches can be reported immediately, if you are concerned private information is not being treated in a professional manner.
Being assessed as Stream C with a high amount of barriers to employment means other assistance can be provided in areas such as financial counselling, parenting or family courses, withdrawal programs, with referral to programs and using them to meet activity requirements an option for those in the high stream C. This is determined by a Job Capacity Assessment and Employment Service Providers may trigger the department to assess or reclassify your stream if additional factors occur or become identified. If you feel you might be in the category, be sure to ask what stream you are being assessed at.
Remember this contract you are signing is what you are capable of complying with – if you cannot comply there has to be negotiations around the reasons why and not a simple case of do it or no payments.
Speaking up now can shape the future of employment programs, and allowing them to become a mere compliance tool making demands to suit them, will be at our own peril. Make them work in the nice fluffy way government have put this on paper, question any requirement that does not provide you with skills required to gain employment as this is the basis for most requirements. Seek out your ideal training or work experience options and take them to your provider they might just be able to really help you. A hopeful thought indeed!
Keep an open mind – believe it or not there are good providers out there who will help you. But most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be pushed into an avenue you are not happy to take. Tell them you would like them to reference the mutual obligation requirements, and ask to see a copy. Then go through all the options with the staff member that are in that guideline, getting them to point out the areas they are using to reach the obligations they are telling you about.
As painful as it is, reading the mutual obligations guideline fully can give you a much better idea of what options you really have. One reason Work For the Dole is the main focus, is the income of providers is based on either the limited real job outcomes or work for dole outcomes. But education outcomes will provide them with nothing, so they will not be at all interested in telling you any of these options.
In the guidelines, there are a lot of requirements that jobseekers should follow and others that jobseekers must follow. This is where interpreting the different areas can take on a more deceptive nature and you may be pressured by your provider. If this happens contact the Department (contact details below). Explain as calmly as you can what factors they have not considered and what program you agreed to that you don’t think is fair or in line with your employment prospects.
There will be cases where Work For the Dole becomes the only option, but again a choice should be provided and it should contain some training element suitable to you.
The poor state of the labour market is also a factor that must be considered according to the guidelines, and this can be said for the majority of unemployed people today. This is a consideration that we need to raise, particularly in remote areas.
Get informed and take control.
Don’t be baffled by the Government’s bullshit!
Employment Service Providers must meet standards, and to keep those standards we have to become willing to complain and complain loudly.
The Department of Employment can be contacted via email on NationalCustomerServiceLine@employment.gov.au or phone 1300 488 064