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Government urged to give job precarious a fair go during lockdowns

AUWU and ACOSS hit out at exclusion of many from COVID disaster relief payments (Photo: Ihor Malytskyi/Unsplash)

CAMPAIGNERS for the nation’s most vulnerable have told Canberra to suspend punitive and ineffective mutual obligation requirements, which are causing stress and mental health illness for unemployed and underemployed people struggling through COVID.

The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union released a battery of demands of Employment Minister Stuart Robert, including financial help for workers excluded from federal disaster relief, a permanent increase to Jobseeker and other welfare payments, and the reintroduction of state and territory moratoriums on rent increases and evictions.

The Australian Council of Social Service spoke to Sydneysiders struggling to make ends meet and in fear of losing their homes because of their job situation.

Jobseeker recipient Lauren said, “Every fortnight, I have to decide whether to use the $40 I have left after rent and bills to buy my prescription medication or food.”

Jade, who has lost work in the hospitality sector because of the latest COVID crisis, added that it is “simply impossible” to survive on the current youth allowance rate.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie, in a statement, called the situation of the job-insecure in the COVID era a “public health issue”.

“People can’t stay home in lockdown if they lose their home because they cannot afford to keep it,” Dr Goldie said.

The AUWU warned that it’s not just those looking for work, or in precarious employment, in the locked-down states of NSW, Victoria and SA who are doing it tough, despite having their job search obligations suspended for the duration of the public health measures.

Welfare recipients in other states and territories are also worried and confused about how much they’re receiving and about what they’re obliged to do to maintain their payments.

The AUWU said for that reason mutual obligations must cease in the NT, Queensland, the ACT, Tasmania and WA.

AUWU’s Jeremy Heywood said the whole idea of a job seeker contract with the government “makes people sick and causes harm.”

“Mutual obligations really affect people’s mental health” as they battle the nightmare of fighting to meet arbitrary requirements in order to keep their “poverty payment,” he said.

“It’s very hard to eat three decent meals on $44 a day.”

Mr Heywood called the exclusion of welfare recipients from COVID disaster relief funds “absolutely absurd.”

“These disaster payments are set up to exclude the most vulnerable,” he said.

“It’s all well and good to say, if you’re losing this much work, then we’ll give you this much.

“But then to hide in the small print that if you’re already getting some social security payment, then you’re not eligible, that makes absolutely no sense.”

Dr Goldie also lamented the government’s miserliness with those on the fringe of the workforce and the “huge surge in financial distress” that has resulted from the latest wave of lockdowns.

She called on federal parliament in its next sitting to fix “paltry” social security arrangements “to deliver an income floor for all” and to ensure that, whether in a COVID hotspot or not, “everyone can cover the basics, including a roof overhead, to keep everyone safe.”

“Everyone needs to have at least enough when they lose their job, anytime, anywhere,” she said.

Mr Heywood was just as clear regarding other AUWU demands of the government.

“We would like to see all social security payments above the poverty line and no mutual obligations, no conditions attached.”

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Cameron Doody

Cameron holds a doctorate in Studies of the Ancient World from the Autonomous and Complutense Universities of Madrid. He has 4.5 years' experience as a reporter in Spain and 3.5 years' experience as a lecturer in Ethics. Writing from Gawler in South Australia, in Kaurna country, he is passionate about advocating for a more humane economy, digital and workers' rights, freedom of expression, sustainability and multiculturalism. In his spare time he enjoys unwinding with friends and family, playing the piano and helping to make the world a better place.

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