The federal government has spent less than half what it planned to help older Australians into work and more than 40% of those receiving wage subsidies were out of a job within three months.
Only $254m has been spent to help 51,190 mature-age people into work, despite the Coalition promising in 2014 to spend $520m to help up to 32,000 older Australians find a job every year.
Of the 51,190 people helped by the Restart wage subsidy, just 30,379 remained in employment for 13 weeks or more, with less than half (21,966) lasting more than six months.
The figures, provided by the employment department, cast new light on the effectiveness of the program cited by the Morrison government as evidence it is already helping older workers.
Labor’s employment spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, told Guardian Australia the Restart program “has been an utter failure in getting older people into work and yet the government is touting it as its signature policy for Australians over 50” .
“Not only is it undersubscribed, 40% of workers under this program were without work within three months,” he said.
In the budget, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, announced $4bn of wage subsidies for companies that hire workers aged 35 and under, prompting a backlash that the budget contained no new measures for older workers.
In response, Scott Morrison has said the Restart program, which provides $10,000 wage subsidies for those aged over 50 and unemployed for six months or more, had helped 50,000 Australians into a job.
In the 2014 budget, the Abbott government provided $520m for the Restart program. Employers would receive staggered payments starting with $3,000 after an eligible worker had been employed for six months, rising to a full $10,000 if they remained employed for two years.
Just 1,700 people were helped into work in the first year of the program. In the 2015 budget, the Coalition revamped it so employers could get the full $10,000 over 12 months, rather than two years.
Uptake increased but from April 2017 to March 2018 just 7,249 wage subsidies were paid out at a total cost of $72.3m. On Tuesday, the employment department revealed that, up to 31 August this year, just $254m had been spent on the program.
Although Labor helped the government pass income tax cuts and more than $30bn of business tax concessions, the jobmaker hiring credit and youth wage subsidy bill has been referred to a Senate inquiry, to report by 6 November.
O’Connor said: “If Scott Morrison was serious about driving down unemployment and kickstarting the recovery, he would not be excluding almost a million Australians aged over 35 on unemployment payments from his new multi-billion-dollar wage subsidy scheme.”
In addition to concerns that the credits – $200 a week for those aged 16 to 29 and $100 a week for those aged 30 to 35 – do nothing for those aged 36 and over, the Australian Council of Trade Unions is concerned the payment may incentivise businesses to lay off older workers.
The ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, told Guardian Australia the jobmaker hiring credit “could be fixed by expanding it to other workers” and providing “stronger protections so employers don’t get rid of or disadvantage existing workers”.
The jobmaker hiring credit scheme requires employers to increase both headcount and payroll to qualify for the subsidy, but McManus said employers could “game the system” by reducing casuals’ hours to hire young people on wage subsidies.
An employment department spokeswoman said it had revamped Restart along with other wage subsidies in 2017 to improve uptake.
“This included providing more flexible minimum hours – enabling participants to work an average of at least 20 hours per week over the six month agreement – and reducing the administration of wage subsidies for providers and employers,” she said.