ECONOMY

Jesse was told it was ‘his fault’ he was unemployed, then his support payments were cut

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In his own words, he went through “a little bit of a breakdown”.

Since then, he’s moved back to his hometown in South Australia and has been piecing his life together little by little.

But an interaction with a job agent at WISE Employment on 18 February left him feeling like he was “at the end” of his “rope”.

SBS News

which was captured in a video that Jesse shared with the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union.

In the video, the job agent tells Jesse he needs to attend his appointments on time before asking him: “Why are you unemployed? Have you tried getting a job?”

Jesse replies, “So now you’re saying it’s my own fault for not having a job?”, to which the agent responds: “I’m actually saying that it’s your fault because if you wanted a job, you would have had one already.”

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The argument between the pair continues to escalate as the job agent questions Jesse over the veracity of the information on his resume and asks him: “Do you actually want to work?”

The job agent also refers to information on his computer that states Jesse has a psychiatric disorder.

Jesse told SBS News he suffers from mild anxiety but it does not prevent him from being able to work.

Eventually, Jesse walks out of the building as the job agent threatens to file an incident report with Centrelink.

“I was shocked. I thought ‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing right now’,” Jesse said of the interaction with the job agent.

“He’s being paid to be professional and he’s dealing with a vulnerable client.”

SBS News has since seen documents showing WISE Employment reported Jesse as not “meeting a requirement” following the incident on 18 February with the job agent, resulting in his JobSeeker payments being cut off for more than a week.

Jesse said he is “generally never late for appointments” and said he was told he “can’t come too early and wait around”, but on the day the video was filmed he was late for the first time.

Documents from Centrelink seen by SBS News state Jesse was cut off from JobSeeker payments as he “did not go to or was late to an appointment arranged by” his provider on 18 February.

A letter Jesse received from Centrelink stating that his JobSeeker Payment had been stopped.

An excerpt of the letter Jesse received from Centrelink. Credit: Supplied

However, another Centrelink document sent on 23 February claimed Jesse’s payment had been “put on hold” as he did not agree to a “Job Plan” to attend an additional weekly appointment, as required by 21 February.

In a statement, WISE Employment said: “We’d like to clarify that the job seeker was not suspended for not coming to an appointment but was only suspended because he didn’t sign his Job Plan – a legal requirement for receiving payments – despite many attempts to support him in doing so.”

JobSeeker recipients are subject to compulsory mutual obligation requirements that include: completing all tasks and activities listed in a Job Plan, attending appointments with an employment services provider, completing and reporting job searches, accepting any offer of suitable paid work, and not leaving a job , training course or program without a valid reason.

“If you don’t meet your mutual obligation requirements, suspensions, demerits or financial penalties may apply,” Services Australia states.

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Jesse was looking for “meaningful long-term employment”, but said he was only being offered temporary farm jobs. Source: SBS

Jesse said he had already been applying for 15 jobs a fortnight and attending a meeting every two weeks, and the additional meeting he was asked to attend as part of a new Job Plan was a kind of “job club” where case managers assist job seekers to apply for work.

He told SBS News he did not agree to this condition as he had an internet connection and the means to apply for jobs from his own home.

Jesse said he had to borrow $10 for phone credit to lodge a complaint to the Department of Social Services, before his payments were reinstated on 2 March.

“After that appointment, I basically didn’t eat or sleep for four days because you beat yourself up,” Jesse told SBS News.

“You wonder what the hell you’re going to do and how to deal with the situation.”

Jesse said he filmed the meeting with the job agent as he felt he hadn’t been listened to or treated respectfully in previous meetings with case managers at the office.

“The camera wasn’t hidden. It’s more about keeping your record and making sure there’s transparency but also being able to refer back to things that have been said before,” he said.

“Every time you go in it’s different. It’s a different person with a different idea.”

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WISE Employment said it had “made several attempts for a senior manager to apologise” to Jesse and “to discuss any grievances and ensure he feels heard, supported, and satisfied with the outcome”.

“The language our staff member used, and the attitude displayed toward the customer during this conversation was inappropriate and inconsistent with our values,” the agency said.

The job agent in question has since “been cautioned and will be undergoing further training and supervision to ensure their level of customer service meets our high standards in future”.

Why Jesse wants ‘meaningful long-term employment’

Jesse previously worked in a French bistro as a kitchen hand until the business shut down. Since then, he’s had “spotty temporary work”.

He said job agents at WISE Employment had been offering him temporary farm jobs rather than “meaningful long-term employment”.

“I don’t want to get five hours of work on a farm one day a week. It’s not going to change anything for me. It would be a temporary measure,” he said.

“It’s not going to get me back to security, stability.”

Jesse – who currently lives on $600 a fortnight and rents a room in his sister’s garage – said he went to another job agency to see if he could be transferred.

Initially, Jesse found that because he was cut off from his payment, he was unable to transfer job agencies.

However, Jesse has since had his Job Plan reverted to normal and signed and accepted it online in preparation to be transferred to another job agency.

After being notified by SBS News of the video, the Department of Social Services and WISE Employment have both launched investigations into the incident.

A spokesperson at the Department of Social Services told SBS News: “As per our previous response the Department is unable to comment further and are unable to release information related to an individual’s circumstances.”

Jesse said he would like to see job agents show empathy and compassion to clients and a restructuring of the current mutual obligations system.

“It’s been a patchwork band-aid industry built upon pop sticks for no reason other than to justify itself,” he said.

“Everybody needs a strong, successful society. Our economy can facilitate that.

“To say that we can’t better look after the most vulnerable people in society is an indication that something’s not working.”

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