‘Unethical’: Job providers cry poor as staff pressured to breaking point

Job agents are under huge pressure by private firms to get people into employment.

Job agents are under huge pressure by private firms to get people into employment. Photo: TND

Consultants have revealed they are under pressure to turn up the heat on unemployed Australians – even while work opportunities don’t exist – as private agencies set out to win public money for every new client they sign to a job plan.

The New Daily spoke with job agency consultants who say they are turning to “unethical” tactics to meet targets set by job providers, or risk being fired.

It comes after Australians reported being subjected to a barrage of cold calls and “pushy” texts from consultants after losing work during the coronavirus pandemic.

Consultants said they are being told to secure work for a set number of people each month – despite record job losses and a 65 per cent drop in job postings.

Some admit they have been convincing clients to sign up to job plans despite there being no suitable positions for them – and even though the federal government announced a moratorium on such welfare requirements until June 1.

‘COVID-19 is no excuse’

A woman working for a private Disability Employment Service provider in Western Australia said she was told she must sign three people into jobs by the end of May.

The number sounds small, but in the past two weeks, Jessica (name changed) managed to only secure work for one job seeker.

“We’ve been directed that COVID-19 is no excuse for not doing placements. They’re the direct words of our HR manager,” she said.

The threat to their own jobs explains why some employment consultants “are being so pushy at the moment” as “they’re trying to meet those KPIs” Jessica said, describing it as “very unethical”.

With mutual obligations temporarily suspended, “the push is to put as much pressure on the actual client as possible to try and get them to engage”.

A job coach from another privately-run employment service said he had the same KPI and it had not changed despite the pandemic.

“There’s no sort of realisation that this is a global pandemic and that half the labour market is shut, there’s lines for people to go to Centrelink and there aren’t jobs available,” Mark (name changed) said.

Management keep saying to us, ‘It’s business as usual’.

“I don’t feel comfortable personally saying to someone in the middle of a pandemic, ‘You have to go risk yourself for this job’.

“What happens if they go to the job, they get it? That’s great for me. Two weeks later, they contract the virus, they’re ill, they take it home to their families.”

‘Providers are hurting too’

Under the Jobactive system, job providers receive “full outcome payments” that are triggered at four-, 12- and 26-week periods if a person stays at the same job for those time intervals.

Those payments can be in excess of $11,000 per person if the job seeker has been unemployed for more than five years in a non-regional area – and tops out at $13,750 for those in regional areas.

An initial appointment with job providers, where applicants sign up for a job plan, also unlocks lucrative administrative fees.

The taxpayer shells out $377.30 for every enrolled person under 30 years old, and a $269.50 fee for everyone over 30.

The fee is repeatedly paid for each person on a job plan every six months.

Mark suspects these payments are why consultants like him are still under pressure to call and text JobSeeker recipients.

“Obviously the company’s not making as much money at the moment as it would. And rather than taking the hit, it seems a bit desperate to try and get money in any other way they can,” he said.

National Employment Services Association chief executive Sally Sinclair told The New Daily employment agencies had experienced a 70 per cent plunge in the number of unemployed Australians they’d been able to funnel back into the workforce.

Jobactive providers are taking one of the hardest financial hits because the companies are under a pay-for-performance contract, Ms Sinclair said.

But she said “nobody is compelled or obligated to engage”.

“The feedback that we get from our members is that they have a significant number of people who are keen to engage,” Ms Sinclair said.

She explained that ‘outcome payments‘ from the federal government normally account for 70 per cent of funding, so fewer clients in jobs mean fewer opportunities for providers to get paid.

‘It’s affecting everything’

Last week, The New Daily revealed the federal government was urging providers to be “proactive” in pursuing Australians left jobless by the crisis.

Phoning job seekers may, at face value, seem harmless.

But for those confused about what is required of them during the moratorium period, receiving calls and texts can lead to feelings of dread and anxiety.

Andrew Shim.

People with mental health problems are particularly vulnerable.

Andrew Shim, 28, said he has been contacted by three different job agencies despite not yet having signed up to any providers after moving to JobSeeker.

The law student from Sydney said the constant cold calling and texts had made him feel he’s being “interrogated” and have triggered symptoms of his post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s affecting everything now. It’s got to a point where I’ve been diagnosed with delayed sleep phase syndrome. On an average day I go to bed maybe at 7am,” Mr Shim said.

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