By William Olson
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has come out with a two-minded approach to the Morrison government’s announcement to upcoming changes to the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes: grateful that they will still be around, but wary that the cuts could place millions of Australians in danger of being in threat of greater poverty during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, in fronting the Canberra press corps on Tuesday, announced that the two programs would be incurring respective $300-per-fortnight reductions from the end of September.
Additionally, in the case of the revised JobKeeper, it will now be a case of being a two-tiered system with payments based on the number of hours an employee within a business had averaged prior to the start of the pandemic – thereby placing employees in the lower category liable to lose more welfare entitlements compared to those on the current JobKeeper award.
And to help confuse the situation further on JobKeeper, there will be two windows of payments before the Commonwealth government reviews it again in March 2021.
From late September until December 31, the two tiers will consist of one which pays workers $1200 per fortnight, minus tax, and $750 per fortnight, minus tax, on the other tier for those employees working fewer than 20 hours per week.
Then from January 1 until the March review, the two tiers reduce themselves to paying a company’s workers $1000 per fortnight, minus tax, with the exception of those working 20 hours per week or less, who will receive $650 per fortnight pre-tax.
As for JobSeeker, the base rate – otherwise known as the old NewStart entitlement – remains at $565.70 per fortnight for single recipients without dependants, not counting entitlements such as rent assistance or the energy supplement, while the coronavirus supplement which created the JobSeeker scheme has been cut from $550 per fortnight to $250 per fortnight.
Therefore, the maximum pre-entitlement amount a JobSeeker recipient could receive from Centrelink will be $815.70 per fortnight from October, whereas the current amount sits at $1,115.70 per fortnight.
The window on that new payment expires as of December 31, after which time it will come back up for government review.
The ACTU had harboured fears over the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes being completely dashed after their September 27 expiry dates, but Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary, has held firm on the belief that the government’s cuts have been too severe when the nation’s workers and unemployed need as much help as they can get in the middle of the pandemic-influenced recession.
“This announcement has delayed the economic catastrophe that would have resulted from pushing these programs off the cliff during the pandemic, but we need far-reaching government investment to create a path out of recession and to create the jobs we will need to rebuild the economy,” McManus said.
The actions of the government on cutting JobKeeper and JobSeeker, when weighed against the growth aims of McManus and the ACTU – confirmed the day before in a wide-ranging jobs-based skeletal program designed to reinvigorate the economy – have drawn concerns from other organisations as well.
GetUp!, a progressive community action and advocacy group seen by some as a political lobbying organisation, outlined the impact of what the changes of JobSeeker would have on the nation’s unemployed and under-employed workers.
On their social media outlets immediately following the media conference, GetUp! broke down what the changes mean for the underclasses.
“The poverty line is around $457 per week for a single adult.
“The new rate of JobSeeker [is] $405 per week.
“During this pandemic recession, we need to be protecting people forced out of their jobs, not putting them in poverty,” GetUp!, through its national managing director Paul Oosting, said on its Twitter timeline.
Morrison and Frydenberg did announce that the JobSeeker threshold of earnings while on the entitlement – that is, money that one may earn before other earnings are taken dollar-for-dollar off the remainder of the payment – has been increased to $300.
However, GetUp! and Oosting view that as being of little other benefit for its recipients.
“The government is going to force 1.7 million people below the poverty line, and force them into pointless job searches while there are 13 job-seekers for every job available.
“The new $300 income threshold will be no relief to millions for whom there is no work,” they tweeted.
And beyond any further statistical analysis, GetUp! and Oosting point to the real human cost of the cuts to JobSeeker – and to some extent, JobKeeper as well.
“The JobKeeper focus in this presser distracts from the fact that unemployment is getting worse, and the government is throwing people who lose their jobs under a bus.
“The economic data is saying that the stimulus is woefully inadequate to support a fast recovery,” they tweeted.
The JobKeeper focus in this presser distracts from the fact that unemployment is getting worse, and the government is throwing people who lose their jobs under a bus.
The economic data is saying the stimulus is woefully inadequate to support a fast recovery. #KeepTheRate
— GetUp! (@GetUp) July 21, 2020
Moreover, the return of Centrelink’s old NewStart wrinkles such as the mutual obligation agreement and the income test for any new JobSeeker claims strikes McManus as putting poverty-level individuals in a series of compromising positions.
“The union movement has been campaigning for continuing the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs, the gaps also need to be closed so everyone who has been badly affected by the pandemic is supported,” McManus said, while seeing the obstacles the jobless and under-employed face.
And those obstacles are more mental and emotional than they are physical, upon those people.
“The increase of the income-free threshold to $300 for JobSeeker is welcome but the reintroduction of mutual obligations is a worrying return to the punitive approach to welfare payments which we hoped the Morrison Government had left behind,” she said.
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