‘It isn’t working’: the government’s Workforce Australia launch derailed by outages and errors

by Cam Wilson
Australians who risk losing welfare payments if they don't fulfil Workforce Australia's requirements were unable to access the service at launch.

The rollout of the federal government’s new unemployment services program, Workforce Australia, has been derailed by technical issues, with some of the 750,000 Australians who must use the system or face losing their welfare payments unable to access the service. 

Monday marked the first official day of Workforce Australia, a refreshed scheme that replaced jobactive. The program ditches the current mutual obligations in favour of a Points Based Activation System (PBAS), an automated program that requires Australians receiving the JobSeeker payment to carry out tasks in order to receive their payments. 

With their means to pay rent or buy food on the line, welfare recipients who had been transferred into the Workforce Australia program tried to log into the new system — but many were unable to.

“Day 1 of Workforce Australia: currently can’t log in,” Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) spokesperson Jeremy Poxon tweeted on Monday morning. Other people responded saying they were also being shown “500 internal server error” messages. “It isn’t working,” user Jay Coonan said.

Soon after, Workforce Australia’s new Twitter account acknowledged they were having issues. “There were some intermittent issues for some clients for a short time earlier today. The site is performing well,” the account tweeted optimistically.

A spokesperson for the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations later apologised for the issues but said they had been corrected.

“Tens of thousands of online users have already successfully accessed services today. If you’re moving into Workforce Australia and experiencing log-in issues, please try again,” they said in a statement. Still, users said they were having issues into Tuesday.

Even those who were able to log in were confronted by issues. One user noted that the Workforce Australia system includes an individual’s legal name despite having supplied their preferred name, leading to situations where trans people are unnecessarily deadnamed.

Others were shocked at Workforce Australia’s seemingly redundant smartphone application that doesn’t allow people to apply for jobs or fulfil obligations within the app. One user who picked through the app’s code found that it had multiple programming languages used within — the app development equivalent of finding an abandoned restaurant hidden behind a wall in a mall

Last week, Employment Minister Tony Burke announced tweaks to the incoming system, but defended it as helping Australians prepare for and then find work while also providing flexibility. The AUWU says the new system is cruel and has called for a three-month suspension of the new system to consult with those people who the scheme affects.