AUWU demands an immediate nationwide suspension of ‘mutual‘ obligations requirements

The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union calls on Minster Robert to suspend mutual obligations in ALL jurisdictions to allow Jobseekers the opportunity to look after their mental & physical health and

As of today, three states - NSW, VIC and SA - are in lockdown due to continuing community spread of the Covid-19 virus. This public health emergency now sees at least 10 million people across these jurisdictions impacted and we welcome the Federal government's latest call to suspend mutual obligations in SA, following suspensions in VIC and NSW. This call is right as it makes no sense for job agencies to continue enforcing 'mutual obligations' during this disastrous time. 

We are now calling on the Federal government to suspend mutual obligation requirements in the states and territories not affected by the lockdowns as well - NT, QLD, ACT, TAS and WA.  

Nationwide there are people of all ages working precarious jobs - in retail, hospitality and early childhood, to name but three - who still receive welfare and are connected to our punitive Social Security system. These workers and other underemployed individuals who live in the locked down states are on the edge of their seats, not knowing how they will emotionally and financially cope as they have been excluded from receiving monetary support. The underemployed in the non-lockdown states are no doubt feeling worried and stressed at the prospect of also being left behind in the unfortunate event that Covid spreads in their communities.  

Ultimately, it is clear the priority for the government now needs to be on encouraging and maintaining community wellbeing, not facilitating stress and further exacerbating ill mental health.  Mutual obligations need to take a back seat because apart from being an ineffective regime, they make people sick and cause harm. Mutual obligations being suspended in some parts of the country but not others will confuse Jobseekers and make it difficult for them to know what activities they should be doing.  As we all know, there is nothing mutual about the way 'mutual obligations' play out in practice. We know job agencies often make unilateral decisions about what activities Jobseekers should undertake. 

Last year particularly highlighted the brazen nature in which job agencies operate when we were continually told how they were misleading Jobseekers about their obligations during mutual obligation suspension periods. Behaviour like coercing people into agency offices when there was risk of Covid exposure and making people undertake activities they did not have to (i.e. sending people off to job interviews and sketchy 'courses') was just the tip of the iceberg. Whether this conduct is attributable to malice or incompetence, we cannot say. The fact remains that job agencies need to be told, despite government Deeds which outline expected conduct, not to do things like misrepresent rights and obligations and engage in harassment and bullying of the country's most vulnerable.

Therefore, we call on Minster Robert to tell his job agency goons to back off and treat people with respect during this time of extreme stress. The AUWU will not tolerate job agencies continuing their pattern of behaviour we have been seeing in the past year. Namely, lying to Jobseekers about their obligations during Covid suspension periods. Further, we will not tolerate Jobseekers in the non-lockdown states and territories being misled about their obligations just because there is confusion floating around. We are in a public health emergency and everybody in this country deserves to be protected - whether in waged work or not.

In addition to ensuring Minister Roberts actually keeps oversight of job agencies by not allowing them to abuse Jobseekers, the AUWU further demands from the Federal and State governments the following during this Covid disaster period: 

  1. In absence of an adequate permanent increase to Jobseeker and other welfare payments (the $25 weekly increase to Jobseeker is insultingly inadequate), an immediate return of the full COVID supplement of $550 per fortnight to bring ALL welfare payments above the Henderson Poverty Line. 

  2. The return of the one-off $750 payment to ALL welfare recipients. 

  3. A wage subsidy being paid directly to workers losing income as a result of these lockdowns

  1. Suspension of the liquid assets test.

  1. Suspension of ALL cashless welfare programs.

  1. A reintroduction by ALL states and territories of moratoriums on rent increases and evictions.

  1. Implementation of Covid response measures that do not involve the police. For example, public provision of free face masks and hand sanitizer. 

  1. Increase the frequency of public transport services to reduce the risk of transmission between essential workers on their way to work.

  1. Ensure all essential workers - as defined by the lockdowns - have immediate access to vaccines and necessary work leave. 

  2. These payments and support measures should be extended to everyone, regardless of visa status, including students not currently eligible for income support.

Lastly, the AUWU calls on unions across the country and the Australian Labor Party to support people on income support. Thousands of Australians in our Social Security system, including parents of young children, work in casual jobs but receive welfare to supplement their low hours and pay. It is incumbent on our unions to ensure everybody - whether in waged work or not - is provided with appropriate support.