Australia: Labor government introduces onerous new social demands

Additional onerous new requirements for the unemployed came into effect with the new financial year. The imposition of the punitive regime by the new Labor Federal Government further highlights how quickly its false election promises of a “better future” gave way to demands for sacrifice and attacks on the most vulnerable sections of working class.

Unemployed people outside a Centrelink office in central western Sydney in March 2020 [Source: WSWS Media]

The new “points-based activation system” (PBAS) imposes a series of tasks and criteria for unemployed workers to receive their sub-poverty level JobSeeker payment.

The SAFP extends the old system of mutual obligation which required 20 applications per month. The new system now requires welfare recipients to accumulate 100 points a month by completing a series of activities. More than 30 of these activities are listed. If someone does not reach the monthly points target, they can be punished with demerits and suspension of their payment.

The points-based system was introduced at the direct request of large companies. While backing the victimization and harassment of the unemployed, business lobbies have complained that the old job search requirement has resulted in companies being flooded with job applications, including from non-professionals. qualified for the position.

The SAFP was passed through parliament in March this year under the former Morrison Coalition government with bipartisan support from the Labor Party as part of the Social Security Amendment Bill 2022. This followed localized trials of the points-based scheme from 2019.

Although Labor has embraced the measure, Labor Employment Minister Tony Burke cynically said last month: ‘It’s actually too late to have no points system at all.’ Burke added, “We want to make sure…we can have a system designed to put people to work.”

In other words, the PBAS scheme aims to make it harder for young unemployed people and workers to stay on welfare benefits. Its aim is to force them to accept low-paying, temporary and casual jobs, under the terms and conditions demanded by employers.

Burke also said that the Labor Party supports “mutual obligations”, ie the idea that the unemployed must render services to society in return for their payments. This is directed against any conception of a social safety net or social assistance as a fundamental social right.

An indication of the business-friendly nature of the program can be drawn from the activities and point distribution on the PBAS. If a person is part of the government’s PaTH (Prepare, Trial and Hire) internship program, they will accumulate 25 points per week (100 points per month).

The PaTH program forces young people under the age of 25 to undergo compulsory “pre-employment” training and has pushed thousands of unemployed young people into menial jobs for private employers. The program pays the equivalent of $4 per hour in addition to unemployment compensation.

The scheme was introduced by the Abbott Coalition government in 2016 with bipartisan Labor backing allowing companies to hire people on ultra-low wages. Under the program, there is no guarantee that you will be covered by workers’ compensation if you are injured on the job.

Full-time paid work or full-time study (25 hours per week) would still not be enough to earn the required 100 points in a month. In both cases, participants only get 20 points per week and will still need to perform other activities such as job search (5 points for 5 jobs) to meet their monthly obligations.

Those forced into the cash-for-work program are effectively prevented from studying or seeking full-time employment. Instead, they have to do menial work just to receive their unemployment benefit.

Work-for-the-dole was introduced by the Howard Coalition government in 1998, as a rebranding of the Keating Labor government’s ‘New Work Opportunities’ programme. The program was continued under the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments.

Cash-for-work denies employee status under occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation and industrial relations laws, meaning these workers have virtually no legal protection. Highlighting the dangers of this forced labor scheme, Josh Park-Fing, an unemployed 18-year-old from Meringandan, Queensland, died in an accident in 2016 while on the scheme.

Immigrants who learn English full-time (25 hours per week) will also only receive 20 points per week for this activity, forcing them to seek low-paying part-time work.

Thousands of people voiced their opposition to the new PBAS system on social media.

A revealing comment from the general discussion read: “It’s a system designed to increase the profits of suppliers. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s about private companies accessing even more welfare recipients and ticking the boxes for payments for services rendered… What it’s not designed to do is help whoever it would be. It is designed for the company to increase its own profits. This is not a thoughtful social policy and it does not render a social service… Stop the deployment!

The new PBAS scheme threatens the 949,940 people who live on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance with even more hardship. The unemployed and young people are constantly harassed by job providers and Centrelink about mutual obligations.

According to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), in a typical month over 200,000 people have their JobSeeker payment suspended. That’s nearly one in four people who use JobActive services. About half of those suspensions were because people couldn’t meet the job search requirements set for them, in many cases because there simply weren’t enough jobs.

The Roy Morgan Institute estimated the true unemployment figures at 8.5% or 1.2 million workers in February, plus an “underemployment” level of 7.8%, or around 1.12 million workers. This totals 16.3%, or 2.35 million workers who are looking for work or more work.

The SAFP is a step towards the abolition of the last vestiges of the social protection system. Albania’s new Labor government has made it clear that it has no intention of raising the JobSeeker rate, which sits at around $46 a day or $642.70 a fortnight, well below the poverty line of $852 per fortnight.

The points-based system is part of a wider austerity program. In its first month in office, the Labor Party signaled it would impose deep cuts in social spending, to pay off the nearly $1 trillion in national debt, racked up mostly through massive handouts to big business. over the past two years. Areas nominated for the chopping block include healthcare, aged care and disability services.

This program is being rolled out, under conditions of major social crisis, aggravated by galloping inflation, with soaring prices for gasoline, rent, childcare, fresh food and other commodities. first need.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) inflicted the biggest interest rate hike in 22 years of 0.5 percentage points last month in a deliberate move to quell workers’ growing demands for wage increases . The RBA has indicated that further interest rate hikes are on the horizon. With Australia having one of the highest household debt-to-income ratios, ongoing rate hikes threaten hundreds of thousands of mortgage holders with financial disaster.

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