- This Open Letter has been made into a petition. Once signed, it will be sent to every member of parliament. Sign it here.
- As of the 23/09/2015 The Federal Labour Government sent us a mixed response to the demands of the below open letter. It can be viewed here
15 September 2015
Dear Member of Parliament,
On behalf of our membership, we the Australian Unemployment Union write to voice our strong objections to the harmful bill [Social Security Legislation Amendment (Further Strengthening Job Seeker Compliance) Bill 2015] currently before the House of Representatives, which if passed will grant privately run Employment Service Providers unprecedented powers to financially penalise Newstart recipients.
With the Newstart Allowance already $280 per fortnight below the poverty line according to the Australian Council of Social Service – making it one of the lowest unemployment entitlements in the developed world – we strongly urge all members of parliament to vote against this bill which will only serve to push the most disadvantaged in our society further into poverty, despair, and ultimately, away from employment.
Under this bill, due to be discussed in the House of Representative on Thursday the 17th of September, a number of the essential rights of Newstart recipients will be stripped away.
Unfair Job Plan Process
This bill proposes that Newstart recipients be financially penalised if they refuse to sign their Job Plan at their first Employment Service Provider appointment. If passed, this measure will take away the essential right of Newstart recipients to negotiate a fair and reasonable Job Plan (formerly Employment Pathway Plan).
Under the current system, Newstart recipients can only be financially penalised by the Employment Service Providers for failing to sign their job plan after the second refusal to sign. This gives Newstart recipients the right to take their Job Plan home and review it carefully before being required to sign.
As recent figures show that 1 in 4 Newstart recipients have a significant disability, it is essential that Newstart recipients be allowed the time to carefully consider their Job Plan in order to ensure their personal circumstances are being taken into account.
If Newstart recipients are denied this necessary time to consider the job plan – known in the government’s Job Plan Guideline as ‘think time’ – vulnerable job seekers will be at risk of signing Job Plans that do not accurately reflect their personal circumstances, potentially resulting in mental distress and injury.
According to Assistance Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker, Newstart recipients who do not initially sign a Job Plan “are essentially saying to the taxpayer, ‘I will take your money but don’t expect anything in return from me.’ No worker would be able to demand that of an employer—so why should a job seeker be able to demand that of the taxpayer?”
What Mr Hartsuyker seems to forget is that no employer would threaten employees with financial penalties if they fail to sign a contract on the spot. So why should Newstart recipients be subjected to such punitive measures?
Penalising ‘Inappropriate Behaviour’
This bill proposes that Employment Service Provider should be given the power to subject Newstart recipients to instant financial penalties if they act in an inappropriate manner during an appointment “such that the purpose of the appointment is not achieved” . If passed, this measure will take away the essential right of Newstart recipients to partake in an equal negotiation with their Employment Service Provider.
Under the current system, Newstart recipients have the right to negotiate suitable mutual obligation requirements that take into account their personal circumstances. In some cases, this means they will be in disagreement with the demands of their Employment Service Provider. Such a disagreement could mean that the “purpose of the appointment is not achieved”, which under the proposed bill may result in Newstart recipients being financially penalised.
The Australian Unemployment Union strongly objects to this measure noting that it will lead to a vast increase of instances in which Employment Service Provider’s bully Newstart recipients into accepting unfair mutual obligation requirements.
According to Mr Hartsuyker, “an employee who misbehaves at work and fails to participate would not be paid by their employer”. However, in most cases employees that make mistakes at work are given warnings before they are sacked or docked wages.
Under this bill, Newstart recipients have been denied this important right to a warning.
Expansion of ‘No Show No Pay’ Penalties
This bill proposes to expand the ‘No Show, No Pay’ penalty to Newstart recipients who fail to attend appointments with specialist service providers, such as Work for the Dole host organisations or training providers. Much like the ‘no show, no pay’ penalties introduced in July 2015 which subjected Newstart recipients to permanent financial penalties if they missed Job Search appointments with their Employment Service Providers, these proposed ‘No Show, No Pay’ penalties will expand upon existing financial penalties.
The proposed introduction of immediate ‘No Show, No Pay’ penalties significantly impedes the important right Newstart recipients have to review the compliance decisions of Employment Service Providers.
The Australian Unemployment Union wishes to point out in the strongest possible terms that expanding the already excessive penalising powers given to Employment Service Providers is completely unnecessary and will only serve to push more disadvantaged Australians deeper into poverty.
Refusing Work and Insufficient Job Searches
Finally, this bill proposes that Employment Service Providers be given expanded powers to financially penalise job seekers who fail to provide adequate proof of their Job Searches. Additionally, Employment Service Providers will also have enhanced powers to punish Newstart recipients who refuse to accept employment.
Yet again, this bill is expanding already existing powers that Employment Service Providers have to penalise Newstart recipients for non-compliance. The Australian Unemployment Union strongly opposes this heavy handed approach as it will only serve to push Australia’s most disadvantaged deeper in poverty, and ultimately, away from employment.
Compatibility with Human Rights: Where are the jobs?
In the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the bill, it is argued that the proposal to give Employment Service Providers expanded powers to financially penalise Newstart recipients is “compatible with human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the internal instruments listed in section 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011.”
According to the ‘Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights’ contained with the explanatory memorandum, the bill engages with three human rights. These are as follows:
- the right to social security in article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
- the right to an adequate standard of living in article 11 of the ICESCR;
- and the right to work in article 6 of the ICESCR.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the Coalition government is systematically denying Newstart recipients these basic human rights, the explanatory memorandum states that the bill is compatible with human rights “because it promotes the right to work, and to the extent that it may limit human rights, the impact is for a legitimate objective, and is reasonable, necessary and proportionate.”
Considering that according to Australian Bureau Statistics and the Department of Employment there are currently 1.83 million unemployed and under-employed people competing for only 155,000 job vacancies – resulting in a record high ratio of 12 job seekers per job vacancy – there is no evidence to suggest the Coalition government is promoting the right to work.
On the contrary, the Coalition Government’s response to this growing unemployment crisis – which has involved significantly expanding the punitive powers of Employment Service Providers while allowing the Newstart allowance to stagnate at $280 per fortnight below the poverty line – has in fact led them to not only abandon the right to work principal, but also to abandon the other two human rights listed in the memorandum.
For the sake of the 1.83 million Australians currently looking for full-time work, and for the sake of Australian society more broadly, the Australian Unemployment Union asks you to vote against this heavy-handed and punitive bill which will unfairly punish and demonise the most disadvantaged in our society.
What unemployed Australians need is a helping hand into work, not more punishments.
We point out in the strongest terms that the only real lasting solution to Australia’s growing level of unemployment – currently at a 12-year high and widely expected to increase further – is Government-administered public sector job creation.
The Australian Unemployment Union