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The Morrison Government's unfair treatment of disabled job seekers

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Disabled job seekers in Australia have been putting up with unfair treatment at the hands of our government (Image via Pixabay)

Job seekers with disabilities claim job providers are cutting their Centrelink payments when they have missed appointments due to illness and finding them work in inaccessible workplaces.

Meredith* was one jobactive program participant who had her Jobseeker payment cut when she could not meet her mutual obligations because of cancer treatment.

Job seekers with disabilities in the jobactive program have mutual obligations with their job provider or risk having their welfare payments cut. Mutual obligations include attending appointments and applying for jobs.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Meredith missed an appointment with her former job provider, WISE Employment, despite having contacted her consultant to let them know she was unable to attend because of her hospital admission. Meredith’s consultant told her she would still need to provide a medical certificate.

Meredith said:

“I was indeed, very very ill. And stressing that my payments would be cut off because I was physically incapable of attending either WISE or Centrelink.”

Job seekers with disabilities like Meredith have been the hardest hit by the return of mutual obligations after they were paused in September because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 13,169 disabled people have had their welfare payments suspended, according to the Senate Estimates Committee.

Meredith said her experience with having her welfare payment suspended for not meeting her mutual obligations while undergoing cancer treatment kept her “up all night with panic attacks” and worried about how she’d pay her bills and feed her child.

‘You people are going to be the death of me and many others,’ she told her WISE Employment job consultant via email.

In response to the high rates of payment suspensions following the return of mutual obligations in September, the Department of Employment announced last month a 48-hour “grace period” before a job seeker is penalised for not meeting their mutual obligations.

While the announcement has been welcomed by the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU), their communications spokesperson, Kristin O’Connell, says the Government’s jobactive program may not be appropriate for job seekers with disabilities who require workplace accommodations for their disability to ensure their employment is more sustainable in the long term.

The jobactive program is a compulsory welfare-to-work scheme for recipients of income support payments such as the Jobseeker payment. 

People with disabilities make up the second-highest number of participants (17.25%) in the job active program, according to data released last month during a Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.

The high rate of people with disabilities in the jobactive program is despite there being disability employment services for job seekers with disabilities which may be more suitable for those who need workplace accommodations for their disability. 

Leannette*, who is partly deaf and a job seeker, says her job provider, Max Solutions, did not listen to her requests for workplace accommodations.

Leanette had told her consultant that because of her partial deafness, she would be better suited to quiet administrative work.

Max Solutions instead found Leannette a job in a noisy factory which was located 100 kilometres away from her home.

Leannette said:

“I was offended I had to go travelling so far... so I left that job after two days... that job also discriminated me as I chose not to wear hearing aids as it was a noisy factory. I only wear them in quiet areas... when having conversations.”

Leanette said her boss would also get annoyed at her for not listening to his instructions.

After feeling like her hearing needs weren’t being accommodated for by her job provider or her employer, Leannette gave up on looking for work:

“I left... I didn't come back and told them I was disappointed in them.”

Kirsten O’Connell from the AUWU said:

“People have ended up on unemployment payments instead of disability payments... people who aren’t able to find work... which obviously their disabilities usually play a huge role in that because either you're discriminated against or you just don't have the capacity to work the same as someone else.”

As of 30 September this year, 256,734 people with disabilities are currently registered in the jobactive program. Figures from December 2019 show there are 272,320 participants involved with disability employment services.

People with disabilities are registered in the jobactive program rather than seeing disability employment services because they receive Jobseeker payments.

Since the eligibility requirements for the Disability Support Pension were tightened by the former Howard Government and the Rudd-Gillard Government so a medical diagnosis of disability would no longer guarantee access, people with disabilities have reported how difficult it is to access the DSP.

In June this year, the National Audit Office released a performance audit of disability employment services and found that labour force participation rates have not changed for people with disabilities in the last 20 years. 53% of people with disabilities are part of the workforce compared to 83% of people without a disability.

While more people with disabilities are registering with disability employment services, with an increase of 38% between July 2018 to December 2019, ABS data shows the unemployment rate has also risen for people with disabilities from 8% in 2018 to 10% last year.

The Federal Government spent $863 million on Disability Employment Services in 2018-2019.

Government contracts from the last eight years show Leanette’s former job provider, Max Solutions, made a total revenue of $1,588,265,206, while Meredith’s former job provider, Wise Employment made $289,328,173.

Jobactive program providers across the country came under scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic for not informing participants of the Morrison Government’s pause on mutual obligations.

* Names have been changed to protect the identities of those still looking for work.

Vanessa Jo Di Natale is a writer and a student at the University of Melbourne.

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