The Guardian • Issue #2058

Bring back the CES

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2058
Back pocket of jeans with spanner and note

Photo: kai Stachowiak – (CC0 1.0)

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has officially launched a campaign to put an end to outsourced government employment services with the creation of a modern Commonwealth Employment Service (CES).

The CES was a hugely successful federal government employment service that was eventually privatised by the Howard Liberal government in 1998.

In privatising employment services, the Howard government argued that competition, through a large number of community-based providers, would ensure good quality services for job seekers, and value for money for taxpayers.

The reality couldn’t be further from this promise, with just a handful of multinationals dominating the space, making enormous profits, and failing to deliver outcomes for job seekers and local employers looking to hire new staff.

The Prime Minister acknowledged these shortfalls recently when he remarked that “some of the system that’s been established by our predecessors is about ticking the boxes rather than providing that support.”

The current model is underpinned by an ineffective and punitive compliance framework that the CPSU argues does more harm than good and has called for it to immediately be abandoned.

A modern, fit-for-purpose CES would deliver better outcomes for job seekers, the government, taxpayers, and the employees who deliver these services.


In its submission to Inquiry into Workforce Australia Employment Services, the CPSU recommends:

1. The immediate suspension of mutual obligations, noting it is a punitive system that does more harm than good.

2. The Commonwealth government take an in-principle decision to end the use of for-profit employment services, noting the conflict of interest inherent in a for-profit system.

3. The Commonwealth government take an in-principle decision to rebuild a public sector based employment service.

4. That while there are a number of possible models for a rebuilt public sector service; the best option is to rebuild a new modern CES, supplemented by specialist community-based services, to provide enhanced support to jobseekers and rebuild APS skills and capacity.

5. The Commonwealth government take steps to increase the number, range and location of entry level jobs in the Australian Public Service.

Melissa Donnelly, the CPSU National Secretary said, “Since 1998, successive governments have thrown huge amounts of public money at employment service providers, and what do they have to show for it? A toxic relationship with job seekers, wasted tax payer money, limited support for local businesses wanting to hire new staff, and huge profits for a handful of private providers who are failing to deliver.

“This system is like an old car that keeps breaking down, but instead of changing models, governments have just kept pouring money into trying to patch it up.

“It’s not a system we can tinker with or tweak. It is a broken system that we need to replace.”


Editor’s note: victims of the Robodebt scandal would probably agree that something drastically different to the current system is worth trying. As for competition, the Guardian – The Workers Weekly would like to ask any readers who are forced to interact with a Job Network agency how much chopping and changing they do, and how often they’ve complained about the service. For competition to have an effect, the customer has to be have the knowledge to compare options, and the ability to choose. Neither is really available to Job Network “clients,” but the cargo-cult of “competition” is impervious to facts.

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