Employment service providers must keep updated with the latest advice published by the Australian Government Department of Health and local health authorities, to help mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and potential disruptions to employment services delivery. Being prepared and proactive protects the welfare of job seekers, provider staff and businesses using provider services. Safe Work Australia also has information on workplaces and the COVID-19 situation.
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Mutual obligation requirements become mandatory
Update: Mutual obligation requirements in Victoria
Job seekers in Victoria are not subject to payment suspensions or penalties until further notice.
Mutual obligation requirements in other states and territories
Mutual obligation requirements will become mandatory on 28 September 2020, for all states and territories except for Victoria.
Job seekers with providers are required to:
- undertake appointments. This can be done online or over the phone. A job seeker with a provider may opt into face-to-face appointments, where it is safe to do so
- review and agree to a Job Plan
- undertake eight job searches per month, tailored to local labour market conditions
- participate in activities
- accept suitable job offers.
The changes to JobKeeper Payment, will mean that some job seekers will be concurrently receiving JobKeeper Payment and JobSeeker Payment. Job seekers in receipt of both payments will have mutual obligation requirements. Providers must be flexible and ensure the job seeker’s Job Plan reflects their circumstances, including existing work arrangements.
Payment suspensions and penalties will now apply for job seekers who do not meet their mutual obligation requirements.
This will be governed by the demerit system as outlined in the Targeted Compliance Framework.
Job seekers may also be subject to a non-payment period if they refuse an offer of suitable paid work without a reasonable excuse.
Flexible learning and mutual obligation requirements
The Government is increasing opportunities for job seeker training and providing additional flexibility for job seekers to count education and training towards their mutual obligation requirements. Job seekers are encouraged to undertake courses that are under 12 months in duration and provide skills that are in demand.
Job seekers who are enrolled in an eligible course can have their job search requirements reduced to take into account their study/training. Study and training will fully meet requirements if they are also doing part-time work for a combined total of 70 hours per fortnight. This is available to job seekers in jobactive as well as job seekers receiving Online Employment Services.
Providers and job seekers can search for eligible courses on the MySkills website. Any course that are identified as ‘Subsidies’ (in bold) on MySkills is eligible.
Participation (Mutual Obligation) Requirements for ParentsNext participants
From 28 September 2020, mutual obligation requirements will return for ParentsNext participants, except those in Victoria.
Where it is possible and safe to do so, attending appointments and activities can resume face-to-face. ParentsNext participants can opt-in to face-to-face servicing by contacting their provider.
From 28 September 2020, ParentsNext participants will be required to:
- attend an initial ParentsNext appointment and then every three months (attendance can be by phone/online unless the participant agrees to opt-in to face-to-face appointments)
- negotiate and agree to a Participation Plan
- participate in and report on having done the activities you agreed to do.
Payments may be suspended if a participant does not meet these requirements without a valid reason.
For Victorian participants, requirements remain voluntary. Participants will continue to receive monthly phone contact from their provider to offer assistance.
Job seekers and COVID-19
If a job seeker or participant advises they are unable to meet their requirements due to a need to self-isolate, providers should reschedule any appointments or activities, including in the IT system, until the job seeker has finished their self-isolation.
In this situation, advise the job seeker or participant to call Centrelink to seek an exemption from their mutual obligation requirements. The relevant Centrelink numbers are below:
- JobSeeker Payment and Special Benefit recipients can call 132 850.
- Youth Allowance recipients can call 132 490.
- Parenting Payment recipients with mutual obligation requirements can call 136 150.
ParentsNext providers may grant participants a Major Personal Crisis exemption if their situation aligns with Department of Health advice regarding grounds for self-isolation.
If a job seeker informs, they may have COVID-19 or may have been in contact with someone who has it, the provider must reschedule all appointments and activities in the IT system, to occur only after the job seeker’s mandatory self-isolation has ended.
Advise the job seeker to call Centrelink to discuss obtaining a Major Personal Crisis exemption.
If a job seeker or participant has recently travelled, they must follow the advice of health authorities including any advice about the need to self-isolate. Please refer them to the information published by the Department of Health or by local health authorities.
There are a number of ways jobseekers and participants can get health support during this challenging time, including
- Speak to your GP about accessing Medicare-subsidised mental health services. Telehealth has been made available, so you can have an appointment from home via telephone or video.
- Reach out to the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service on 1800 512 348 or visit the Beyond Blue - Coronavirus website. This service is specifically designed to help people get through COVID-19. It’s available in languages other than English.
- Visit the Head to Health website if the jobseeker/participant, or someone they care about, might need some help coping with anxiety and worry. It provides access to free and low cost phone and online mental health services and supports.
If they need help now call Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or the Suicide Call Back Service is also available (1300 659 467).
For more information visit the Department of Health - Resources website and search for mental health.
If providers need to close a site, if possible, please advise the department via the usual channels immediately. The health and safety of staff, job seekers and participants are paramount. The department will work with providers to action any site closures quickly and flexibly. Advice on cleaning and disinfection can be found on the Department of Health website.
Service delivery for job seekers and participants
From 28 September 2020, job seekers have the option to opt-in to face-to-face servicing, including for appointments and activities.
The option to opt-in to face-to-face servicing is designed to provide job seekers and providers with the flexibility to adapt servicing to the job seeker’s personal circumstances and preference. These requirements are further detailed in the Department’s new Direction on return to Face-to-Face Service Delivery to take effect from 28 September 2020.
Providers must give the participant the option to commence or recommence face-to-face servicing, if safe to do so. This will allow participants the flexibility in choosing the method of servicing that suits their needs including options to participate in individual and group based face-to-face training such as Career Transition Assistance, Employability Skills Training, PaTH Internships, and other forms of work experience and placements.
Where a participant agrees to opt into face-to-face servicing, providers must keep a record of the participant’s agreement.
Participants who do not wish to opt into face-to-face servicing must still meet their mutual obligation requirements through participation online, unless they meet the grounds for an exemption from mutual obligation requirements from Services Australia (or their ParentsNext provider for participants in that program). Providers must not compel or coerce participants to opt into face-to-face servicing.
Providers must tailor Job Plans to ensure they take into account, and are relevant to, each individual job seeker’s personal circumstances and career goals. Provider must also take into account the impact of COVID-19 on job seekers when considering each job seeker’s compliance against their mutual obligation requirements.
Work for the Dole
Work for the Dole activities may resume from 28 September 2020 where it is safe to do so in all States and Territories, except Victoria. The health and safety of participants remains a critical priority of Work for the Dole. All activities must be conducted in line with the Direction on return to Face-to-Face Service delivery advice. Job seekers will only be able to undertake Work for the Dole activities if they opt-in to participate.
New Business Assistance with NEIS providers
Information is available for New Business Assistance with NEIS providers on how to support NEIS participants during the COVID-19 pandemic.