Labor, welfare groups call to pause work for the dole and other obligations during coronavirus

The federal government has relaxed the approach to mutual obligation since the start of the coronavirus outbreak but has not issued a widespread pause. Senator Cash said job service providers had been directed to “review all job seeker requirements … as appropriate”.

She also said providers had been asked to “respond flexibly and compassionately” and the government was “closely monitoring the situation”.

As of December 2019, about 530,000 Newstart recipients had mutual obligation requirements, with exemptions already available for health or other incapacitation reasons.

But Dr Goldie said widespread action was needed, noting the job market has changed drastically due to the coronavirus outbreak, with economists predicting unemployment will soon start to surge as businesses collapse.

“Employers are also saying the last thing they need is to be dealing with job applications that have no chance of success. We should be supporting people right now not making life harder for them.”

On Thursday, Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott backed a relaxation of mutual obligation requirements during the coronavirus crisis.

“We’ve got to give a break to people, particularly on Newstart,” Ms Westacott told ABC Radio.

“So, don’t ask them to turn up every week to a Centrelink office or a job assist [appointment], maybe give them a payment for 14 weeks so they can, you know, not be flooding companies with job applications.”

Mutual obligation activities can include a set number of job searches a month and tasks like maintenance or warehouse work under work for the dole, or other training requirements, such as resume-writing classes.


The growing push to change mutual obligation requirements comes as Newstart is renamed as the JobSeeker payment as of Friday – a date already specified in 2018 legislation. Sickness Allowance will also stop and come under the new JobSeeker payment.

The Greens and ACOSS have been calling on the government to delay the change, saying it will add to confusion during the coronavirus outbreak.

A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said on Thursday: “The vast majority of people transferring to JobSeeker payment will not have to do anything and will not notice any change to the income support amount or concession card they receive or their mutual obligations (if they have any).”

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