Saturday, February 27, 2021
Politics

Hotline to dob in unemployed Australians who reject job offers blasted by business, welfare groups | Welfare

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Business leaders and welfare advocates have blasted the Morrison government’s decision to establish a hotline for employers to dob in unemployed Australians who refuse job offers, calling the measure out of touch with small business owners who believe “most unemployed people are not dole bludgers”.

Unions have been even more critical of what they see as the “dangerous” hotline, warning it could force women into accepting jobs from employers who treat them poorly or who make “sleazy propositions” to them during an interview.

In revealing a $50-a-fortnight rise to the base rate of jobseeker on Tuesday, the government also announced it would launch “an employer reporting line” to “refer jobseekers who are not genuine about their job search or decline the offer of a job”.

Explaining the government’s reasoning behind the measure, the employment minister, Michaelia Cash, said “you often hear, though, employers saying, ‘Joe applied for a job. He was qualified for the job … and they said no”.

“If someone does apply for a job, they’re offered the job and they’re qualified for the job but they say no, the employer will now be able to contact my department and report that person as failing to accept suitable employment.

“This will then mean that my department can follow up with that person or alternatively, Jobactive can follow up with that person, to ascertain exactly why they said no to a suitable job,” Cash said.

Cash said unemployed Australians who were found not to have “a valid reason” for refusing a job “will be breached for that”.

However, the Council of Small Business Australia chief executive, Peter Strong, told the Guardian that the idea of an employer hotline lacked compassion, and showed a lack of understanding of the reasons why unemployed Australians might turn down job offers.

“Most small business owners won’t find the time to lodge complaints like that. The only instance you may find they have time to complain about an unemployed person who rejects a job is if someone is particularly obnoxious to them,” Strong said.

“Most employers actually feel for the unemployed. We need to show compassion and support.

“You know a bludger when you see one, and the reality is that most unemployed people are not dole bludgers.”

Strong acknowledged that there had been small business owners reporting situations where unemployed applicants had refused job offers, however he noted that during the pandemic, this often included farm labour or regional service station attendants – jobs that have been historically filled by overseas workers and international students.

Strong said that during the pandemic, as a higher number of skilled workers found themselves out of work for the first time, some of them had rejected initial offers in service industries they had applied for, before ultimately securing a job they were better suited to several weeks later.

“They might decline the job with the service station or the restaurant because they’re waiting for a clinical job or something they’re skilled in, where a hiring process takes a little bit longer. A lot of these people have found themselves unemployed for the first time in their career,” he said.

“If they refuse those jobs, it’s important to show them respect and understand their decision. For the government to be saying ‘just get a job’ worries my members,” Strong said.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions president, Michele O’Neil, was scathing about the hotline, warning it would give unemployed Australians even less power in a dynamic already skewed against them, especially if an employer treated an applicant poorly during an interview.

O’Neil suggested it could lead to women accepting jobs they feel unsafe in, referencing the multiple workplace sexual assault allegations that have dominated political discussion over the past week.

“Just think about what we’ve all been talking about for the last week and a bit. I mean, imagine a circumstance where someone is treated badly at the interview, where they’re harassed, or perhaps sleazy propositions put to them at the point where they’re going for a job. Then you’re saying that employer can dob in that unemployed woman for the fact that she’s knocked back a job?

“This is dangerous territory to give power to employers to further punish people who are simply looking for work.”

O’Neil noted there were already “harsh” obligations in place for jobseeker recipients to prove they’re looking for work, and any breaches risked a reduction in their payment. She said she wanted the government to reveal what evidence it had relied on to justify the establishment of the hotline.

“This is unnecessary and it’s punitive, and it can backfire badly,” O’Neil said.

The Australian Council of Social Service chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, said the hotline “is about the tired, old politics of demonising people simply because they’re not able to find paid work”.

“We want to foster collaboration between employers, between social services, the union movement and, most importantly, people affected by unemployment to find solutions and create the great jobs of the future. Instead the government’s going down a path of distrust and division.

“We already have one of the strictest systems of income support compliance among comparable countries. Tougher mutual obligation requirements will just make life even harder for millions of people without improving their job prospects,” Goldie said.



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