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‘Immediately suspend’ Centrelink rules for all, union demands

·4-min read
A Centrelink branch with a queue outside; image of MP Stuart Robert
Mutual obligations should be suspended for all Aussies, not just people in locked-down areas, the AUWU is demanding. (Source: Getty)

Centrelink mutual obligations are “causing harm” and confusion and should be immediately suspended across the entire nation, Australia’s unemployment union has demanded.

Half of Australia’s population has now entered lockdown, with much of NSW entering its fifth week of lockdown as of today.

So far, Minister for Employment and Workforce Stuart Robert has suspended mutual obligations across jurisdictions that have announced lockdowns, including most of NSW as well as Victoria and South Australia.

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However, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union is urging the Government to go one step further.

“We are now calling on the Federal government to suspend mutual obligation requirements in the states and territories not affected by the lockdowns as well – Northern Territory, Queensland, ACT, Tasmania and Western Australia,” AUWU said in a statement.

In order to receive Centrelink payments, jobseekers need to fulfil mutual obligations, which include applying for 20 jobs a month, meeting with employment providers, attending job interviews and accepting a job if it’s been offered.

But the continuation of mutual obligations for people in non-lockdown states are having an adverse impact on jobseekers’ health, the union said.

“The priority for the government now needs to be on encouraging and maintaining community wellbeing, not facilitating stress and further exacerbating ill mental health,” said AUWU.

“Mutual obligations need to take a back seat because apart from being an ineffective regime, they make people sick and cause harm.”

Jobseekers are being confused by the suspension of mutual obligations in some parts of the country but not others, the union argued.

“Therefore, we call on Minster Robert to tell his job agency goons to back off and treat people with respect during this time of extreme stress.”

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 30: Government Services Minister Stuart Robert looks on during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House on November 30, 2020 in Canberra, Australia.
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business Stuart Robert has paused mutual obligations in locked-down areas only. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Union slams lockdown payments

The union also slammed the crucial loophole of the $600 and $375 lockdown payments that excludes anyone who receives any welfare support.

A single person with no children is eligible to receive a maximum of $620.80 in fortnightly JobSeeker payments.

This represents just over half of the $600 a week payments that locked-down but employed individuals are receiving.

The income support payments also dwindle down depending on hours worked. This means someone receiving as little as $1 from JobSeeker is still entirely excluded from the $600 payments.

“These workers and other underemployed individuals who live in the locked down states are on the edge of their seats, not knowing how they will emotionally and financially cope as they have been excluded from receiving monetary support,” AUWU said.

“The underemployed in the non-lockdown states are no doubt feeling worried and stressed at the prospect of also being left behind in the unfortunate event that COVID-19 spreads in their communities.”

“We are in a public health emergency and everybody in this country deserves to be protected – whether in waged work or not.”

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In addition to the nationwide suspension of mutual obligations, AUWU is also calling for another tranche of the one-off $750 payments to all welfare recipients and a wage subsidy to workers losing income from the lockdowns.

All cashless welfare programs should also be suspended, and moratoriums on rent increases and evictions should be introduced across every state and territory.

Yahoo Finance has reached out to Stuart Robert MP’s office for further comment.

Centrelink branch a COVID-19 hotspot

As people line up to receive financial support amid the COVID-19 outbreaks, a Centrelink branch has been named as COVID-19 exposure site.

An individual who had COVID-19 visited Centrelink branch in Adelaide’s Modbury on Friday 9 July.

“So not only have people been exposed to the virus but now they have to quarantine without financial support,” said a frustrated Twitter user.

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