Employment services

5.37 This section outlines the Australian Government’s employment services system, and employment assistance provided to mature age job seekers. The ALRC proposes that DEEWR ensure that capacity-building measures are made available to employment services provider staff about the barriers to work faced by mature aged persons.

5.38 Job Services Australia (JSA) is the Australian Government’s employment services system. General employment services are delivered by JSA providers: a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit organisations that are contracted by DEEWR under Employment Services Deeds.[58] The Disability Employment Services (DES) system provides employment services for job seekers with disability.[59] JSA and DES providers assist individual job seekers to gain sustainable employment, and connect job seekers to skills development and training opportunities.[60] Integrated Indigenous employment services are available through the JSA network, in conjunction with the Indigenous Employment Program (IEP) and, in remote areas with poor labour markets, Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). From 1 July 2013, the delivery of employment and participation services and community development programs in remote areas—currently provided by JSA, DES, IEP and CDEP—will be provided by a new integrated service, the Remote Jobs and Communities Program.[61]

5.39 Generally, job seekers are required to connect with a JSA provider as a condition of fulfilling their activity test.[62] Job seekers who receive non-activity-tested payments, such as Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment, may also volunteer to use JSA or DES.[63]

Employment assistance for mature age job seekers

5.40 The amount of employment assistance job seekers receive is determined by their placement in one of four ‘streams’ of support. Persons in a higher stream will receive more intensive assistance.[64]

5.41 Some stakeholders argued that the Australian Government’s employment services system requires through reform in respect of both the resources and assistance provided to disadvantaged and long-term unemployed job seekers.[65] The ALRC also heard concerns that mature age job seekers are not receiving the employment assistance needed to re-engage in the workforce.[66]

5.42 The Australian Government has recognised that mature age job seekers may benefit from additional employment assistance. The Mature Age Participation—Job Seeker Assistance Program, announced in the 2012–13 Budget, will increase the support available to some job seekers aged 55 years and over who are engaged with Jobs Services Australia. This program will provide approximately 6,700 mature age job seekers with intensive employment assistance.[67]

5.43 While this measure will provide targeted assistance for mature age job seekers, its scope is limited. In addition to the limited number of job seekers it will assist, the program is also restricted to ‘particular regions or industries, as prioritised by the Government’.[68] The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has suggested that there may be a need to further expand this program to all locations, and to Newstart Allowance recipients aged 45 years and older.[69]

Tailoring of employment services

5.44 JSA providers work with job seekers who receive an activity-tested income support payment to identify the mix of vocational and non-vocational activities they need to participate in to obtain employment. These activities are outlined in an individualised Employment Pathway Plan (EPP).[70] In setting the terms of an EPP, ‘the person’s education, experience, skills, age, physical condition and health (including mental health)’, among other things, must be taken into consideration.[71]

5.45 While the EPP is intended to be ‘individually tailored’ and negotiated between the job seeker and the provider, commentators have argued that this tailoring and negotiation does not occur in practice.[72] In an analysis of employment assistance reforms between 1998 and 2008, Professor Mark Considine, Associate Professor Jenny Lewis and Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan concluded that frontline employment services staff ‘do not exercise significant discretion in tailoring services and the trend over time is towards high levels of standardisation for both staff and jobseekers’.[73]

5.46 The apparent disjunction between law and practice in the tailoring of employment assistance has implications for mature age job seekers, as for other job seekers. Mature age job seekers may have particular needs for tailoring of their EPPs, given the increased likelihood of acquiring some degree of disability with age,[74] and the increased likelihood of caring responsibilities for people with disability, the frail aged and grandchildren.[75] These considerations may also require that a mature age person has access to the available exemptions or suspensions from EPPs.[76] NWRN reported that

Welfare Rights Centres … receive many enquiries from recipients of activity-tested payments not yet 55 years of age who suffer from a range of health problems … It is our experience that the activity testing obligations and the consequences for a person not able to comply can be daunting for an older person in poor health.[77]

5.47 Difficulties in meeting activity test requirements are likely also to amount to barriers to participating in the workforce. It is important that the content of an EPP appropriately identifies and addresses these issues, and that exemptions or suspensions from EPPs are granted in appropriate circumstances.

5.48 The extent to which the contracting out of employment services puts the discretion and tailoring exercised by employment services providers beyond public scrutiny and review has also attracted comment. Emeritus Professor Terry Carney has noted that, where the ‘substance of a social security or welfare issue is contracted out to private providers, that issue becomes largely insulated from the public gaze … and is much less responsive to orthodox external administrative review’.[78] In the case of EPPs, there is a much diminished capacity to obtain external review of their terms.[79] Carney has suggested that increased debate about the methods of accountability for, and review of, decisions taken by private providers—including decisions about the content of EPPs—is timely.[80] Greater transparency about these decisions would benefit mature age job seekers, as well others engaged with employment assistance.

5.49 A respect for self-agency—one of the framing principles of this Inquiry—requires that mature age job seekers have some opportunity to participate in setting the terms of their participation obligations. The Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman reported that some mature age persons expressed a ‘sense that their age means they are not treated with respect’ by employment services providers, and offered the following case study:

Mr L informed our office that he is 63 years old and has been unemployed for six years. Mr L said he was meeting his job seeker obligations, but he felt his JSA provider was becoming more demanding in what it required of him. Mr L told us he had lengthy experience as a senior manager, but felt that his age was preventing him from getting work. Mr L considered that his JSA provider was rude and failed to show any sympathy for his situation … Mr L said he wanted to be treated with ‘respect, dignity and professionalism’. Mr L also said he was thinking of cancelling his Newstart Allowance, and therefore ceasing his job search obligations or regular contact with the JSA provider, to try to live off his superannuation until he reached age pension age.[81]

5.50 Olderworkers, a mature age job board, submitted that in a recent survey of its registered job seekers

approximately 50% of respondents were accessing JSA and over 90% stated they were unhappy with services provided. Many of the respondents stated they had actually been advised they were wasting their time looking for a job at their age. They also stated they had felt age discrimination from many of the workers in these organisations … Some had actually been compared to the recruiter’s mother or father. Some had been asked why they wanted to work at their age.[82]

5.51 The ALRC considers that the responsiveness of employment services providers to mature age job seekers could be improved, and proposes that DEEWR ensure that capacity-building measures are made available to JSA, DES and IEP staff about the barriers to work faced by mature aged persons. The ALRC notes the launch in August 2012 of the Mental Health Capacity Building e-learning package, designed to assist employment services provider staff to identify and support people living with mental illness.[83] The mental health training package was developed with input from mental health organisations, psychiatric rehabilitation services and employment service provider peak bodies.[84] A similar package, drawing on relevant expertise, may be beneficial for mature age persons. The ALRC also seeks stakeholder comment about other ways that employment assistance for mature age persons could be improved.

Proposal 5–2 To enhance the capacity of Job Services Australia, Disability Employment Services and Indigenous Employment Program staff to respond to the needs and circumstances of mature age job seekers, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations should ensure they are provided with information about:

(a) age discrimination, including what constitutes ageist behaviour;

(b) the effect that illness, disability and caring responsibilities may have on mature age persons’ capacity to work;

(c) the ways in which barriers to work for mature age persons may be affected by gender, cultural and linguistic diversity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, and sexual orientation; and

(d) Australian government programs targeted at increasing mature age workforce participation.

Question 5–1 In what other ways, if any, could the Australian Government’s employment services system be improved to provide better assistance to mature age job seekers?

[58] DEEWR, Job Services Australia providers (2012) <www.deewr.gov.au/Employment/JSA/
EmploymentServices/Pages/serviceProviders.aspx> at 4 September 2012.

[59] DEEWR, Disability Employment Services (2012) <www.deewr.gov.au/Employment/Programs/DES
/Pages/default.aspx> at 4 September 2012. DES providers also provide employment services under contract with DEEWR.

[60] DEEWR, FaHCSIA, DHS and DIISRTE, Submission to the Allowance Payment Inquiry (2012), 129.

[61] Australian Government, Remote Jobs and Communities Program General Fact Sheet (2012).

[62]Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 601; FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [].

[63] DEEWR, FaHCSIA, DHS and DIISRTE, Submission to the Allowance Payment Inquiry (2012), 129–130.

[64] Age is taken into account in the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI), a questionnaire taken by job seekers that determines the level of assistance they will be given. Generally, older job seekers attract more points in the JSCI than younger job seekers, in recognition that age can be an employment barrier: DEEWR, Job Seeker Classification Instrument: Factors and Points version 1.1. Where the JSCI indicates that a person has significant barriers to work, the person is referred for an Employment Services Assessment (ESAt) or Job Capacity Assessment (JCA) to determine work capacity and the most suitable employment service: FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [1.1.E.104], [1.1.J.10].

[65] Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 54; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50.

[66] Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 54; COTA, Submission 51.

[67] Australian Government, Budget 2012–13: Budget Paper No. 2 (2012) <www.budget.gov.au> at 3 September 2012. In addition, the Experience+ Career Advice service provides professional career counselling and a resume appraisal service to all job seekers and workers aged 45 years and over: DEEWR, Free Career Advice (2012) <www.deewr.gov.au/Employment/programs/expplus/jobseekers
/pages/freecareeradvice.aspx> at 4 September 2012.

[68] Australian Government, Budget 2012–13: Budget Paper No. 2 (2012) <www.budget.gov.au> at 3 September 2012.

[69] AHRC, Submission to the Allowance Payment Inquiry, (August 2012).

[70] FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [].

[71]Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) ss 501A, 606; FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [].

[72] L Fowkes, Rethinking Australia’s Employment Services, Whitlam Institute Perspectives Papers 6 (2011), 14; M Considine, J Lewis, S O’Sullivan, ‘Quasi-markets and Service Delivery Flexibility Following a Decade of Employment Assistance Reform in Australia’ (2011) 40(4) Journal of Social Policy 811, 825–826.

[73] M Considine, J Lewis, S O’Sullivan, ‘Quasi-markets and Service Delivery Flexibility Following a Decade of Employment Assistance Reform in Australia’ (2011) 40(4) Journal of Social Policy 811, 825–826.

[74] DEEWR, FaHCSIA, DHS and DIISRTE, Submission to the Allowance Payment Inquiry (2012), 80.

[75] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers: Summary of Findings, Cat No 4430.0 (2003); National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50.

[76] See, eg, Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) ss 603, 603A, 603C.

[77] National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50.

[78] T Carney, ‘Social Security Law: What Does the Politics of ‘Conditional Welfare’ Mean for Review and Client Representation?’ (2012) 12(2) Sydney Law School Research Paper 1, 17.

[79] Ibid, 16.

[80] Ibid, 22–24.

[81] Commonwealth Ombudsman Office, Submission 16.

[82] Olderworkers, Submission 22.

[83] K Ellis, MP, K Carr, MP, M Butler, MP, ‘Frontline Training to Stop Job Seekers Living with Mental Illness Falling Through the Cracks’ (Press Release, 4 September 2012).

[84] Ibid.