A range of government policies and laws have an impact on the labour market – from taxation policy to trade relations. Those that more directly affect employment are typically considered, collectively, as ‘labour market policies’. Labour market policies in Australia include:

  • wage subsidies – such as the JobKeeper Payment (now closed)
  • employment services
  • unemployment payments.

This page provides an overview of employment services and wage subsidies.

For an overview of unemployment payments, see Unemployment and parenting income support payments.

The information on this page is based on the latest available data at the time of finalising this snapshot in mid-July 2021.

Employment services

The Australian Government funds employment services so that those on income support who may not be serviced by the private sector have access to support that will help them find and keep a job. The kinds of services typically included in employment services programs include:

  • services that help individuals during their job search, such as helping to find jobs or writing resumés
  • training programs aimed at helping to improve the employability of people who are unemployed
  • services that help unemployed individuals start their own business
  • work experience programs that place unemployed people in work-like activities (such as Work for the Dole).

Employment services primarily support recipients of specific income support payments, such as those receiving unemployment and parenting payments (see Unemployment and parenting income support payments). To continue to receive such payments, an individual may need to participate in an employment services program to meet mutual obligation (activity-testing) requirements.

This page focuses on the main employment services programs administered by the Australian Government.

Main employment services programs

jobactive: is the Australian Government’s key mainstream program to get more Australians into work. It connects participants with employers and is delivered by a network of jobactive providers in over 1,700 locations across Australia.

Disability Employment Services (DES) program: supports people with disability to prepare them to find – and keep – a job (includes help with resumé preparation and interview skills, in-workplace support for employers, and workplace modifications).

ParentsNext: aims to help parents of young children (in particular, those receiving a Parenting Payment) to plan and prepare for employment.

Transition to Work: aims to assist young people aged 15–24 into work (including apprenticeships and traineeships) or education through practical intervention and work experience.

Community Development Program: aims to support jobseekers in remote Australia to build skills, address barriers to employment and contribute to their communities through a range of flexible activities. 

There are also several smaller targeted programs and complementary services. Complementary services (such as Work for the Dole and Youth Jobs PaTH) may be accessed through general employment services programs and form part of the package of services accessed by the participant.

The numbers of participants registered with the main employment services programs were:

  • 1.01 million for jobactive as at 30 June 2021 (DESE 2021a)
  • 315,900 for the DES program as at 30 June 2021 (DESE 2021b)
  • 79,000 for ParentsNext as at September 2020 (Senate Education and Employment Committee 2020)
  • 35,900 Transition to Work participants as at 31 July 2021 (DESE 2021a)
  • 29,600 Community Development Program participants as at 31 March 2020 (NIAA 2020).

Trends in employment services

Trend data are available for jobactive and the DES program. Together, these programs cover the majority of jobseekers using employment services.


Overall, between June 2016 and June 2021, the number of jobactive participants rose by 31%, from 773,300 to 1.01 million (Figure 1). However, very different trends were observed before and after 2020.

  • Before 2020, participant numbers were falling – from 773,300 to 613,400 between June 2016 and December 2019.
  • Between March and June 2020, the number of participants almost doubled (from 757,300 to 1.43 million), following the introduction of social distancing and business-related restrictions in March 2020.
  • From September 2020 to June 2021, the number of participants steadily declined, from 1.49 million to 1.01 million.
  • At 30 June 2021, participant numbers were 34% higher (an additional 256,100 participants or 1.01 million participants in total) than March 2020 levels.

These changes are broadly consistent with patterns observed for recipients of unemployment payments in the 12 months to March 2021 (see Unemployment and parenting income support payments for further details).

Between 1 July 2015 and 30 April 2021, there were:

  • almost 2 million job placements
  • 1.1 million 4-week outcomes
  • 919,700 12-week outcomes
  • 590,400 26-week outcomes (based on previously unpublished jobactive data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment).

Disability Employment Services program

Between June 2016 and June 2021, the number of DES participants has increased considerably, an increase of 73% over this 5 year period or from 182,800 to 315,900 (Figure 1).

  • Between June 2016 and June 2018, participant numbers rose gradually, a 5.8% increase over this period or by an average of 445 participants per month.
  • Between June 2018 and June 2020, participant numbers rose faster, a 47% increase overall or by an average of 3,800 per month over this period. This steep increase coincided with reforms to the provision of the DES program in 2018, which resulted in an increase in the number of non-government DES outlets (providers and sites) (for more details see Disability support services: services provided under the National Disability Agreement 2018–19).
  • Between June 2020 and June 2021, participant numbers continued to rise, but the growth was slower than in the previous 2 year period – an increase of 11% or by an average of 2,700 per month.

Data visualisation - Figure 1: People participating in jobactive or Disability Employment Services, June 2016 to June 2021

Employment service use by population groups

As at 30 September 2020, males accounted for 52% of jobactive and 51% of DES participants, compared with only 4.9% of ParentsNext participants (Senate Education and Employment Committee 2020; DESE 2021b).

As at September 2020, the age profile of each employment services program also differed substantially:

  • Almost 1 in 2 jobactive participants were aged 25–44 (26% aged 25–34 and 21% 35–44), compared with 18% aged 45­–54, 17% aged 55 and over, and 8% under 22 (Senate Education and Employment Committee 2020).
  • The majority (53%) of DES participants were aged 45 and over (23% aged 45–54 and 30% aged 55 and over), compared with 14–17% for the other age groups (those aged 24 and under, 25–34 or 35–44) (DESE 2021b).
  • Around 3 in 4 ParentsNext participants were aged 25–44 (46% aged 25–34 and 30% aged 35–44) compared with 18% aged 24 and under and 5.7% aged 45 and over (Senate Education and Employment Committee 2020).

Some of the cohorts examined for jobactive, ParentsNext and DES mentioned in this section may have been targeted by separate employment services and therefore under-represented in these data.

Wage subsidies and JobKeeper Payment

To incentivise employers to employ disadvantaged jobseekers, the Australian Government has (or had) a range of wage subsidy programs. These include:

  • wage subsidies for eligible participants of employment services programs
  • wage subsidies for Australian apprentices and trainees
  • Aged Care Workforce Retention Payment (Department of Health 2021)
  • JobMaker Hiring Credit (ATO 2021b).

Employment service providers can use wage subsidies to encourage employers to hire participants from 5 eligible cohorts: mature age, long-term unemployed, Aboriginal and Torres Islander people, youth, and parents.

Wage subsidies of up to around $10,000 are available to eligible employers for eligible jobs.

Wage subsidies have been shown to be effective, if targeted at disadvantaged jobseekers (Borland 2016). As at 30 April 2021:

  • over 247,000 wage subsidies have helped people into work since 2014
  • jobactive wage subsidies have resulted in 50% of people remaining in employment for 26 weeks or more, compared with 38% of people placed into a job without a wage subsidy (based on previously unpublished jobactive data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment).

JobKeeper Payment

In March 2020, the Australian Government introduced the JobKeeper Payment. This payment, a fortnightly wage subsidy, was designed to support the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic by helping to keep businesses trading and people employed. Eligible organisations had to pay their employees the full JobKeeper amount (after tax) – regardless of whether an employee had undertaken any work – after which the organisation received the JobKeeper Payment from the Australian Tax Office.

The JobKeeper Payment was introduced at $1,500 per fortnight. Businesses (and some non-profits) were eligible if their turnover was:

  • less than $1 billion and had an estimated or projected decline of at least 30%
  • above $1 billion and had an estimated or projected decline of at least 50%.

Workers needed to be employed by 1 March 2020 to be eligible for the payment. In August 2020, this date was changed to 1 July 2020. Furthermore, casual employees had to be employed on a regular and systematic basis for at least 12 months to receive the payment.

In May 2020 and July 2020, further eligibility requirements were applied, including payments being no longer available for employees of child care services (from 20 July 2020), and those aged 16 or 17 had to be financially independent from their parents, or not studying full time, to be eligible (from 11 May 2020).

On 28 September 2020, the program was extended by 6 months and changes were made to the JobKeeper Payment (referred to as the JobKeeper Extension payment). To receive this payment, organisations now needed to show an actual decline in turnover during the September 2020 quarter compared with the 2019 September quarter, rather than an estimated or projected decline as required previously. The payment was also adjusted to $1,200 for people who worked 80 hours in the 28 days prior to the employee reference date or $750 for those who worked fewer hours in the 28 days prior.

In January 2021, to be eligible for the JobKeeper Extension payment, organisations again needed to show an actual decline in turnover (during the December 2020 quarter compared with a comparable quarter in 2019) and the payment was adjusted to $1,000 for those who worked 80 hours in the previous 28 days and $650 for those who worked fewer hours.

The program ended on 28 March 2021 (Department of the Treasury 2021, ATO 2021a).

The following data on JobKeeper Payment receipt on this page are sourced from previously unpublished data from the Australian Tax Office (Figure 2):

  • In April 2020, the first month of the JobKeeper Payment, around 3.4 million employees received the payment increasing to a peak of 3.7 million by July 2020, and then declining to 3.6 million by September.
  • After changes were made to the JobKeeper Payment on 28 September (the JobKeeper Extension payment), the number of people receiving the payment fell from 1.6 million in October 2020 to 1.0 million by March 2021.

Between April and September 2020, similar proportions of employees in age groups 25–34 (22%), 35–44 (23%) and 45–54 (22%) received the JobKeeper Payment – with these 3 age groups accounting for 2 in 3 employees receiving the payment. These age groups also accounted for a similar proportion of the employed population.

For further information on how JobKeeper Payment receipt differed by age and sex, see ‘Chapter 4, The impacts of COVID-19 on employment and income support in Australia’ in Australia’s welfare 2021: data insights.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on employment services, see:


ATO (Australian Tax Office) 2021a. JobKeeper Payment. Canberra: ATO. Viewed 9 June 2021.

ATO 2021b. JobMaker Hiring Credit Scheme. Canberra: ATO. Viewed 9 June 2021.

Borland J 2016. Wage subsidy programs: a primer. Australian Journal of Labour Economics 19(3):131–44. Viewed 3 April 2021.

DESE 2021a. jobactive and Transition to Work (TtW) data – June 2021. Canberra: DESE. Viewed 23 July 2021.

DESE 2021b. DES monthly data. Canberra: DESE. Viewed 13 August 2021.

JobKeeper Payment. Canberra: Department of Treasury. Viewed 1 July 2021.

Department of Health 2021. Aged Care Workforce Retention Bonus Payment for residential and home care workers. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 9 June 2021.

NIAA (National Indigenous Australians Agency) 2020. Community Development Program quarterly compliance data. Canberra: NIAA.

Senate Education and Employment Committee 2020. Answers to Questions: no. 432 on notice – Education, Skills and Employment Portfolio, 2020–21 Budget Estimates. 28 October 2020, portfolio question no. SQ20-001818. Canberra: Parliament of Australia.