Aboriginal jobseekers to Work (Harder and Longer) for the Dole

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Work for the Dole programs have been supported by successive governments in Australia.  Taking an evidence-based approach, the National Welfare Rights Network’s assessment is that these programs are not the most effective way to support people into real and sustainable jobs.  They are also not a cost effective use of public money. Furthermore, the name of the program itself appears designed to stigmatise job seekers.

On 6 December 2014 the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, announced that Work for the Dole would be introduced into remote communities from July 2015, with the majority of remote job seekers to undertake work-like activities five days a week, 12 months of the year. All jobseekers aged 18 to 49 will be required to do work for the dole up to 25 hours per week, based on their individual capacity.

NWRN supports providing pathways to real employment for people on social security.  However, what the Minister is essentially proposing is that Aboriginal people be forced to do full time work for the dole, 5 hours per day, 5 days per week, 52 weeks of the year for $250 dollars of Newstart Allowance per week. That’s about $10 per hour (plus the non-indexed WFTD Supplement which is just $10.40 per week). The National Minimum Wage is $640.90 per week.

While the stated aim is “providing real pathways to employment” it must be recognised that there is, whether intended or not, a potentially punitive and exploitative element to this racially discriminatory Work for the Dole proposal.

A real problem with all WFTD programs is that they are still 50 per cent less effective in assisting job seekers into real, employment when compared to other programs, like wage subsidies. It is also the case that the scheme leaves less time for people to look for ‘real’ jobs – which has been found to be a significant issue with previous WFTD programs.

A far better option is paid work experience and wage subsidies. In a previous media release on work for the dole (14 May 2014), the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) pointed out that figures from Senate Estimates show 47 per cent of Wage Connect participants were in paid employment at the end of the six-month program which is more than double the results achieved under the previous Work For The Dole scheme, which placed just 20 per cent in ongoing work.

The Minister has provided the following assurances which would be welcome if the proposal was not so unsound.  Those assurances are that there will be:

  • “community by community” consultation;
  • opportunities to establish businesses that support needs and desires of local people;
  • investment in local businesses to provide real work experience and jobs;
  • training for skills needed in the communities; and,
  • the changes won’t be rushed.

It should be noted that these positive elements of the package could be implemented alongside a wage subsidy package, rather than full time work for the dole.

Cutting Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) wages has the potential to have serious impacts on some of the most highly profitable industries in remote communities – for example the art industry. Many artists and employees of art centres are paid through CDEP grandfathered wages. Cutting CDEP wages and transitioning people onto income support payments (and then onto income management) may in fact increase welfare dependence.

Many projects are being successfully run with CDEP workers – like the Babbara Cleaning Crew, who clean the commercial premises in Maningrida and the printmakers at the Babbara Woman’s centre.

People in employment get four weeks of annual leave per year.  Requiring participation 52 weeks a year is unrealistic and harsh. As one of our members working in Maningrida put it:

Real jobs have sick pay, personal leave annual leave, superannuation – etc – this is not giving a person an accurate reflection of a real job –  it’s a distortion and will put people off work. It does not enable a person to have holidays – to visit family or to go to culturally strengthening activities, like cultural festivals , sports carnivals etc

The prediction that 30,000 out of 37,000 jobseekers in Remote  Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP) regions will be required to participate in this work for the dole scheme is concerning. It suggests that the myriad of vulnerabilities and barriers to work in these regions may not have been fully considered. Aboriginal people in remote communities are often highly vulnerable with significant levels of disability, high levels of overcrowding, domestic violence and people suffering from chronic health conditions from a young age.

Finally, we question whether there will be enough employers in remote communities to absorb the number of people on Newstart Allowance to each have a Work for the Dole position, let alone a 25 hour a week position.  If the proposals go ahead, safeguards form exploitation will be needed and exemptions where positions are not available.  It will also need to ensure that cultural needs, such as attending funerals or ceremonies, will not result in payment penalties.