$521m ‘rort’ driving job seekers mad
A government program designed to help Newstart recipients find employment is riddled with glaring and systemic failures that make finding a job impossible, those within it claim.
The probe found that $521 million in commissions was paid out in 2018-19 to organisations, including for-profit companies, for helping people find employment.
But a number of those who shared their personal experiences in the system claimed they found their own jobs with no help, but those payments were still made to their Jobactive providers.
Job seekers' accounts also painted a picture of poor service and baffling decision-making by case managers that raises questions about whether the Federal Government and taxpayers are getting value for money.
COMMISSION FOR NOTHING
Jobactive providers who place Newstart recipients in work receive generous "outcome payments" in recognition of their success, subject to conditions.
The government paid more than half-a-billion dollars in bonuses in the last financial year.
But some of the former clients of for-profit companies have told news.com.au they were coerced into helping providers secure these payments, even when they found their jobs on their own.
A Melbourne man, 34, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his Jobactive provider offered no assistance in his search for work and, in the end, he secured a job entirely on his own.
"I told them I found work and they started hassling me for pay slips and my boss's contact details so they could get their commission," he said.
"Why should they get taxpayer money when they did absolutely nothing? For months they treated me like s**t … I genuinely wanted work. They did nothing but they wanted money."
The man said he expressed interest in skills training that complemented his previous work history, but was knocked back.
His case manager showed little interest in his circumstances and offered no advice or help in searching for jobs, he claimed, instead merely collecting his monthly disclosures of applications he'd made.
It's a story repeated by others who were in the Jobactive system before finding work, they claim without any help, and where providers chased them for documents required to claim outcome payments.
An online forum where former Jobactive clients expressed their upset at their experiences also revealed multiple allegations of what they deemed "rorting".
A number also spoke of requests for documents from former case managers that would allow the Jobactive organisations to apply for payments, despite not playing a role in their employment.
The office Employment Minister Michaelia Cash told news.com.au it didn't matter who was responsible for a job seeker finding work.
Outcome payments are made when a job seeker stays in employment for the required period, regardless of whether the Jobactive provider or individual sourced the work.
That's because job seekers are expected to search for their own employment, and it is the provider's role to actively encourage and support them in their job search, Ms Cash's office said.
Ms Cash's office confirmed that $521 million was paid to Jobactive providers in outcome payments in 2018-19, but declined to provide a detailed breakdown of the expenditure as it was "commercial in confidence".
Labor employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor said the Government was failing in its obligation to ensure the Jobactive scheme provided value for money.
"Billions of dollars of taxpayers' money is spent on the Jobactive program and yet the government spends its time attacking job seekers by selectively dropping demonising data to media outlets," Mr O'Connor said, in reference to a flawed newspaper drop about welfare payment suspensions.
"Everyone other than this Government knows that the current labour market programs must work better, connecting unemployed Australians with decent, stable jobs."
Ms Cash's office said the outcome payment recognised the work that providers did to help build a job seeker's search capability and connections to find their own employment.
While that may be the case, those who shared their experiences in the system painted a trouble picture of an environment where encouragement and support were lacking.
'MADE EVERYTHING HARDER'
A job seeker from Perth who spoke on the condition of anonymity said she was left traumatised by the treatment she received from her provider and felt "worthless … and pathetic".
The 22-year-old woman has been on Newstart since finishing her university degree in July, having found it difficult to find work in her chosen profession.
When she registered with her Jobactive provider, she submitted her resume both digitally and in hard copy, and went out searching and applying for work on her own.
Three months later, she received a confusing phone call from the Jobactive provider to say she needed to send in her CV if she expected any assistance.
"(That's) despite the fact that I brought a hard copy resume to them on my first initial meeting months ago and sent a digital copy to an email I was given," the woman, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal, told news.com.au.
"This means for three months they did nothing to help find a job for me as they had believed they had no resume."
Once her CV was submitted, the woman said her case manager made "odd" suggestions about how it should be delivered to prospective employers.
"They have suggested odd things like removing most of my references from my resume even though I explained that each offered a good reference," she said.
"They also said I had to cut out most of my experience on my cover letter as they wouldn't be suitable for the jobs 'I should be applying for'."
Her experience has left the woman with little confidence in the provider's ability to help her find work.
"So far, they haven't done anything for me," she said.
"During my scheduled meetings with them, they still continue to ask me where I have worked before, despite having my resume on file for reference."
Another job seeker, Caren, who asked that her surname be withheld, had an "absurd" experience with a Jobactive provider earlier this year who offered "no value whatsoever".
The 44-year-old from Darwin went on Newstart after a health scare that resulted in an extended period of recovery and saw her lose her previous laboratory technician role.
"I had a massive tumour in my jaw that had to be removed," she said.
"It was benign, thank God, but it was a major operation. They took out half of my teeth. I suffered hearing loss as a result and couldn't speak."
Despite her condition, she still had to complete mandatory compliance to receive her Newstart allowance, including applying for jobs each month.
"It was absurd. How can you go to an interview and hope to get the position without teeth and not able to speak?" Caren said.
Her case manager mistakenly scheduled an appointment on a Sunday and, by the time she realised the error, he couldn't be reached to reschedule.
When she didn't show - the office was closed on weekends - her payments were suspended over the "breach".
When Caren got the all-clear from her doctor, she was eager to return to work and asked her case manager for help writing a resume.
Given her background in a specialist field, she hoped to do a session with a resume-writing expert to get "a really polished CV".
"The guy told me they wouldn't pay for the session until after I'd been offered a job, which makes no sense, obviously," she said.
"He said it wasn't worth them paying the money.
"Instead, he sent me a template that looked like something a high-schooler might produce. A friend helped me write mine in the end."
Caren registered with a new Jobactive provider recently and has had a much more positive experience.
With her new professional resume ready, she is now actively applying for roles and looking forward to getting back into the workforce.
In a statement, Ms Cash defended the Jobactive scheme and said it had achieved 1.4 million placements since July 2015.
"Given the heavy investment into finding people jobs, the government has strong expectations that providers deliver high-quality employment services for job seekers and employers," Ms Cash said.
"In keeping with our commitment to getting even more people into work, the Government is transforming Australia's employment services model to deliver better outcomes for both job seekers and employers.
"It's the most extensive reform of employment services since 1998 and will empower job seekers who are job-ready and prioritise support for those who face the greatest barriers.
"In addition to this, the Government is investing $585 million to strengthen the vocational education and training system and build a more productive and highly skilled workforce that matches the evolving opportunities and challenges of modern workplaces."
DECISIONS 'MAKE NO SENSE'
A woman from western Sydney who was on Newstart from 2015 to 2016 was with a Jobactive provider who enrolled her in a work-for-the-dole scheme at a site 30 minutes from her home.
She was struggling financially, which her case worker was aware of, and the cost of public transport totalled $5.20 a day.
While a modest amount to some Australians, it quickly added up to a fair proportion of the small amount of welfare she received each fortnight.
"I was given money to go to (work for the dole) - $1.50 extra a fortnight," the woman told news.com.au.
A recent offshoot of work for the dole, the Youth Jobs PaTH scheme, provides incentives to businesses to employ young people on Newstart as interns.
It has faced criticism from Labor that it was leading to the displacement of existing employees or reductions in shifts as a result of hosting an intern by a host business.
"This is despite Minister Cash's best attempts to pretend the program is not exploitative and inept," Mr O'Connor said.
The job seeker from Perth said her Jobactive provider had made decisions and directives contrary to her personal circumstances.
She has been applying for graduate roles, given her recently completed uni degree, but with little to choose from she has expanded her search to include "pretty much everything".
"They have basically told me to not apply for graduate roles because they're too 'high level' for the skills I have. I always thought a graduate position was comparable to a professional entry-level role," she said.
"They have denied my requests that maybe we could search for work in an office environment as I possess the skills to do so, as an office assistant or data entry clerk, and instead have tried to convince me I am more suited to working in a factory packing goods, despite the fact I have never worked in an industrial factory before."
Ms Cash said the government was committed to giving all Australians the opportunity to be part of the workforce.
"We believe the strongest form of welfare is a job," she said.
"Importantly, the labour force figures released last by the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) underscore the continued strength and resilience of the Australian labour market, with employment increasing by 14,700 over the month, to stand at a record high of 12,944,000 in September 2019. For the first time since records were kept, we have had 36 consecutive months of positive jobs growth."
TREATED LIKE 'GARBAGE'
The Perth woman said going to her jobactive provider was a soul-destroying experience that had left her feeling "worthless".
"They treat me like I'm a work-shy layabout, despite having worked since I was 15 and despite the fact I'm obviously hardworking enough to earn a uni degree, which took four years," she said.
"If I didn't want to work, why would I have bothered with studying? They have literally said to my face 'it's obvious you don't want to find work' for no reason."
Caren said fellow job seekers at her former agency had tried to source useful qualifications, like a Responsible Service of Alcohol course or a white card for construction jobs, only to be knocked back.
"You spend time at a (provider) and everyone there is just so frustrated," she said. "They try to be proactive but they're knocked down because the agencies don't care."
With her former provider, the Sydney job seeker said her case worker was "awful to me" and would scold her for helping other job seekers with computer issues, she said.
"I asked for toilet paper one day as their toilet was out," she said. "I was called a princess. After that, I was called 'princess' every time I went there."
She was treated like she was lazy and a "dole-bludger" despite trying to show a keen interest in turning her life around.
Ms Cash's office said the performance of Jobactive providers was measured using a star ratings system and the Employment Department closely monitored outcomes.
Anyone dissatisfied with the service of their provider can lodge a complaint with the Department via telephone, email and correspondence with the National Customer Service Line.
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