Unemployed Workers Union calls for pandemic supplements to be reinstated

July 1, 2021
Millions of vulnerable people are now back below the poverty line. Photo: WikimediaCommons

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) has called for the COVID-19 supplement to be reinstated to those receiving social security payments.

The AUWU said on June 29 the federal government must “give certainty to the unemployed, underemployed, people in insecure work, the disabled and everyone else in the welfare system”.

Support for unemployed and underemployed workers is a critical part of a good health response to the pandemic.

The failure of federal and state governments to hastily roll out vaccine programs and provide adequate quarantine facilities has led to further infection outbreaks, sending parts of the country into lockdown.

The more infectious and transmissible Delta variant of the virus is now in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.

The federal government stripped its special COVID-19 supplements in March, sending millions of vulnerable people back below the poverty line.

The government claimed that the relatively low community spread of the virus meant that life could return to “normal”, despite millions still being unable to access vaccines and a lack of dedicated quarantine facilities for international arrivals.

It also reintroduced the cruel “mutual” obligations scheme that punishes those looking for work if they do not apply for a particular number of jobs each month, or fail to attend compulsory job agency interviews.

The AUWU has consistently argued for a return of the special COVID-19 supplements. It said many low-paid and insecure workers may be forced to go to work, even when sick, so they can pay rent and afford groceries.

The union started a campaign with the Anti-Poverty Network for JobSeeker payments to be raised to $80 a day — in line with COVID-19 supplement payments.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions joined the call for $80 a day in April. The Greens want the government to provide immediate $3000 relief payments to those who are out of work. “Many casual workers have only $325 to last them two weeks,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

The AUWU also wants a $750 emergency payment for everyone receiving payments, the full suspension of mutual obligations, the suspension of the cashless welfare programs and the abandonment of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirement and Other Measures) Bill 2021.

The bill would force job seekers onto work for the dole programs after six months on the payment, end the backdating of payments to when claims are made and continue to force job seekers onto a new online system. Online systems have led to payments cuts resulting from technical issues and low levels of computer literacy.

The AUWU wants payments to be extended to all those not currently eligible, including international students and visa holders. “These measures should never have been removed in the first place, and all should be introduced immediately, indefinitely and unconditionally.”

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