Public sector union says Labor's welfare overhaul doesn't go far enough
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Public sector union says Labor's welfare overhaul doesn't go far enough

The main public sector union has called for the Labor Party to commit to ending the privatisation of job-seeker services as part of the party's proposed reforms to the system.

Labor's employment services spokeswoman Terri Butler signalled this week that if the party were to win government, it would reform the "mutual obligations" required of job seekers in order to receive welfare benefits.

The current system isn't keeping up with the digital age of job-seeking, a government-commissioned report said.

The current system isn't keeping up with the digital age of job-seeking, a government-commissioned report said.Credit:Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Under the Labor plan, unemployed people would no longer be required to apply for 20 jobs a month, and employment service providers would only need to report back to Centrelink quarterly, instead of the current requirement of reporting fortnightly or monthly.

Community and Public Sector Union assistant national secretary Michael Tull welcomed the announcement, but asked for even more radical changes.

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"Most private providers have become experts at gaming the system, extracting the maximum payment while doing close to nothing for job seekers. It’s astonishing that this system is costing billions of dollars and yet only four per cent of employers are using it," Mr Tull said.

Unemployment services have been privatised since the Howard government, and the current JobActive system is worth $7.3 billion. JobActive is set for an overhaul no matter who wins government, after an inquiry found late last year that it was failing to keep up with technology and wasting the time of both employers and employees.

The existing arrangements are set to expire in 2020, and the union wants a complete overhaul before then.

"The ALP and Terri Butler have identified the key problems with the current system and proposed some common sense solutions to improve the situation, but we believe nothing short of a complete overhaul is required," Mr Tull said.

"It was clearly a mistake to privatise Australia’s employment support system, turning it into a business rather than a service for all Australians. Putting these services in private hands is the underlying cause of all the problems with the system, and reviving a single public employment service is the only way to fix the situation."

The report commissioned by the government last year said employment services providers "can do better" and needed to be able to invest time in job seekers needing more support and create connections with employers. But the union wants the conversation to move away from private providers and onto a renationalised system.

"A public single national agency remains the best way to properly serve job hunters and employers rather than ticking boxes in the name of profits. In particular, it’s the best way to properly capitalise on the opportunities offered by digital and online services," Mr Tull said.

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service.

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