The launch of the federal government’s controversial Workforce Australia service and points-based activation system has been plagued by tech issues, with outages, poor services and “alarming” terms and conditions.
The Department of Employment this week launched Workforce Australia, a new employment service replacing jobactive. This involves an online service, smartphone app and a network of job providers.
Through these services, job seekers can search and apply for jobs, access the homepage, set up job alerts, manage appointments and tasks and view provider’s contact details.
The new points-based activation system was also used, which will be used by all individuals who have mutual obligation requirements. These people will have to earn a certain amount of points by completing activities such as applying for a job, in order to receive their payment.
The new system has led to concerns of a repeat of the robodebt scandal, with an increased use of automation in important government decision making.
The new website and app launched on Sunday, with the system crashing due to the number of people trying to access it, leading to welfare recipients being unable to access its services.
“It’s inevitable that anyone, and especially the government with its ridiculously bad track record in rolling out technology, when they launch a system like this with such a heavy load, there will be quirks and teething issues, systems disruptions and bugs that need to be resolved. And that’s precisely what happened,” Anti-poverty Centre spokesperson Kristin O’Connell told InnovationAus.com.
“It’s really alarming because the government didn’t put out any information yesterday telling people to log on. It should be capable of handling the number of people who need to use it but it wasn’t even built to handle the number of people who logged onto it yesterday.”
A spokesperson for the Education department confirmed there were “some intermittent issues impacting some clients” accessing Workforce Australia.
“The systems are performing well, following isolated and intermittent technical issues in the first day. There were three issues that impacted clients, each resolved within a matter of minutes, with the longest issue resolved within 20 minutes,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
The spokesperson said the Workforce Australia app has now been downloaded more than 109,000 times, and more than 250,000 individuals have booked an initial appointment.
If a participant doesn’t receive their required points under the new system in the first reporting period, no compliance action will be raised, the federal government has confirmed.
“The new system means a fresh start, with more choice and flexibility in the activities and tasks needing to be completed by a participant to meet their mutual obligtion requirements recognising that there is no one-size fits all pathway to employment,” the spokesperson said.
The Workforce Australia app consists mainly of links to external websites.
“It’s a joke. It’s essentially a series of links that lead you to a browser,” Ms O’Connell said.
“Someone had a look at the code and there is a bunch of test images that quite clearly show there’s some kind of code they’ve downloaded as a template and haven’t cleaned it out. It’s almost beyond parody, this should be an episode of utopia.
“You’ve got the government refusing to budge on something really simple that we’ve been asking for weeks now, which is to just make sure that no-one would get any form of penalty for not getting their head around this system and delays that may be caused by tech issues and disruptions.”
The launch of Workforce Australia and the tech system underpinning it has been a “confluence of disasters from all angles”, Ms O’Connell said.
“There’s no trust in these systems and no trust in the government. Regardless of what they say their good intentions are, people are afraid they’re going to lose their payment. You can’t measure the amount of pain that genuinely causes people,” she said.
“It’s not too late for the Minister to act to protect people and give people reassurance, lift the burden of stress and fear that people are feeling. He has the ability to fully suspend penalties for a minimum of 90 days, and give people the time they need to adjust this system, let alone the staff and these workers.”
A number of private companies have been awarded significant contracts for work on the new Workforce Australia system. This was led by DXC Australia, which has received nearly $30 million in contracts since 2020, while Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte and PwC have also landed lucrative work.
The increased use of automation to make decisions on whether someone receives welfare or not has led to comparisons with the recent robodebt debacle.
“This system has the hallmarks of robodebt. We’re going to have a computer being tasked with making a decision based on information that is unclear,” Ms O’Connell said.
“There’s no transparency at all around how peoples’ information will be used to make those decisions, which can lead to peoples’ payments being cut.”
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