Calls for changes to JobSeeker as employers struggle to fill vacant positions
A million people are out of work in Australia but there are still some jobs that no-one wants to apply for. One boss is blaming JobSeeker.
Tim Buckley’s landscaping business has bounced back so strongly he is now hiring more staff but it’s harder than ever to recruit workers despite record unemployment.
Mr Buckley is the managing director of Landscape Solutions, a company that employs about 450 people in Australia and another 250 in New Zealand. He believes the problem is the high rate of JobSeeker being provided to the jobless at the moment.
“Traditionally it’s always been hard to find staff in Sydney, but this is next level hard,” Mr Buckle told news.com.au.
“Once the JobSeeker and JobKeeper came in, we saw a massive increase in difficulty in trying to find people.”
Like many other businesses, Landscape Solutions took a hit when the coronavirus pandemic saw lockdowns introduced across the country.
While their revenues declined by 15 to 20 per cent, it wasn’t enough for the business to claim JobKeeper payments and they had to stand down about 25 staff.
Fortunately they managed to bounce back and now have more work than before. They have hired back their staff and are also looking for more workers.
“We’re now looking to expand again but can’t find people to fill the roles,” Mr Buckle told news.com.au.
“The landscape industry offers the lower end of wages, and the gap between JobSeeker is so close, there’s no incentive for someone to go to work.”
Mr Buckle said the toughest place for them to fill roles was in Sydney. It currently has more than 20 roles available in NSW, most of these are in Sydney. They include apprenticeships as well as roles that don’t require any experience.
Mr Buckle said the most difficult role to fill was for a “trade assistant”, which is an unskilled role that involves mowing, gardening and landscape labouring.
“This tells me that’s linked to the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments,” he said.
The trade assistant role pays about $25 an hour and so a full-time employee can earn just under $1000 a week before tax. This equals about $785 a week after tax, which is only about $200 more than the current unemployment benefit of around $550 a week.
“We’re just getting no applicants,” he said. “We are getting one or two applicants for each job role at best, previously we might have got 30, 40.”
He said the expenses of getting to and from work could also add up to about $100 once tolls were factored in.
“The gap is only about $200 a week and the unemployed also get a few other benefits, especially if they have families,” he said. “If there is only a $200 difference, some may think ‘why go to work?’.
“I do think it will change if the payment drops off in October but what happens between July and October?”
A Senate inquiry that reported in April this year found that previous levels of Newstart payments, which provided unemployed about $270 a week to live on, were inadequate and that some people were likely living below the poverty line.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the government doubled the payment and renamed it JobSeeker. There are reports the government won’t return it to pre-COVID-19 levels, although the details have not yet been confirmed.
While Mr Buckle acknowledged that it would be hard to survive on the previous unemployment payment of about $250 a week, he didn’t understand why the rate had been doubled for those already unemployed when the pandemic hit.
“My position is, when we’ve got 10 to 20 per cent underlining employment, surely we should be getting more applicants?” he said.
“JobSeeker should be cut down so people are actively encouraged to find work.”
The Morrison Government is due to announce changes to the JobSeeker payment this week, as well as the JobKeeper payment, which is a higher payment that keeps people attached to their workplaces.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Monday the government would be changing the JobKeeper scheme, with new measures to apply from late September.
News.com.au political editor Samantha Maiden reported eligibility for the JobKeeper payment is set to be tightened and the payment would be reduced to about $1000 a fortnight, from the current payment of $1500.
However, the payment would be extended to Christmas instead of finishing in October as previously announced.
Mr Buckle said changes were also necessary for JobSeeker.
“I don’t know the answer but I think something has got to change,” he said.
“I’m not against support for some industries such as tourism, they’ve got to have some sort of assistance because they are going to have long-term structural problems for their businesses, which is terrible.”
But Mr Buckle said the higher JobSeeker payment appeared to be discouraging people from finding work.
“Unfortunately for us, we’d love to pay more but the market says that’s the rate. Clients won’t pay more than that,” he said.
Last week it was revealed that Australia had recorded the highest unemployment rate for 22 years.
Labour figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed Australia’s June unemployment rate rose to 7.4 per cent, a 0.3 percentage rise on the previous month.
It was the highest monthly unemployment rate since November 1998 and prompted Mr Morrison to label the fiscal pain caused by the pandemic as Australia’s “COVID-19 economic recession”.
The number of jobless rose by 69,300 people to a total of 992,300. Mr Morrison said in May that about 1.5 million people were receiving the JobSeeker payment.
The decision to phase out the JobKeeper wage subsidy over months rather than have support “fall off a cliff‘’ in September follows a second lockdown in Victoria.