I want to work, not work for the dole

Since losing my job as a disability worker due to the lack of government funding, I have been placed into a ‘Work for the Dole’ program. This means I am required to participate in 25 hrs of unpaid work per week in exchange for a Newstart Allowance payment. This equates to an hourly rate of just over $10/hr, $7 below the national minimum wage.

Proponents of Work for the Dole claim that this program is designed to help unemployed people back into work. The reality is very different. I am trained to work in an industry where people are over-worked and underpaid. The demand for disability support remains high but the funding to create jobs doesn’t match it.

Instead, my skills are going to waste as I work for just over 50% of the minimum wage. While I work twice as many hours for the hourly rate the government considers the minimum to live on, I also need to find the time to find another job. The stigma and time constraints involved in Work for the Dole have meant that previous schemes saw participants 12% less-likely to find work than other unemployed people.

Rather than recognising the frustration of my situation and helping me find a way back to work, I am labelled a lazy, ungrateful bludger. I am told I am a drain on society because society cannot find a useful role for me. While I am expected to pay my rent, bills and other expenses on a mere $261.70 per week, the politicians in Canberra who voted for this policy get an extra allowance (on top of their already generous salary) of $271 per day! Remind me again who is a drain on society?

In my Work for the Dole program there are ten others with greatly different backgrounds, qualifications, and work experience. We all have different factors that led to our unemployment, but the main reason is that there are simply no jobs available. Youth unemployment in my state of Victoria is at ‘crisis’ levels according to the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS) yet we are blamed for our situation. It is estimated there are almost 100,000 young people in Victoria looking for work. It is not uncommon to apply for dozens – if not hundreds – of jobs and never get an interview.

I am required to apply for at least five jobs per week. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find jobs listed that I am qualified to do so I end up applying for everything. This doesn’t help when there are thousands of others doing the same.

The most frustrating thing about Work for the Dole is not that I get paid a sub-minimum wage. It’s that private ‘job providers’ and other contractors get paid the money I should receive in wages for the work that I do.

My job provider is awarded $3,000 in public funds for telling me which Work for the Dole program I must participate in or have my payments cut off. It would require just $4,000 to turn the job that I am doing into a actual minimum wage job. This is just one example of how public money that should be used to retrain workers and create jobs for unemployed people is being syphoned off by private companies in the business of making money off unemployment.

The real solution to unemployment is not creating schemes that belittle and punish the unemployed by making us jump though hoops for no reward. The money wasted on increasingly privatised welfare schemes should instead be used to create jobs. All the resources wasted on forcing me to go to pointless meetings, fill out endless forms, and apply for unsuitable jobs should instead go into create socially useful jobs, like in the industry I am trained in: public health. Anyone who works in public health can tell you there is no shortage of work to be done, but there is a grave shortage of funding to create jobs to get the work done.

In the past, strong movements of unemployed workers have demanded exactly this approach. It was socialists who led these movements, like the Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM). That’s how the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built. It’s how many thousands of people found work again during and after the Great Depression. With the world experiencing another drawn out economic crisis, we need to relearn these important lessons from the past.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on any of the mainstream political parties to find solutions to growing unemployment and job insecurity. They are more interested in scapegoating those of us on welfare payments than supporting us. We must focus on rebuilding a workers’ movement that fights for socialist solutions to unemployment. This means demanding public investment in public housing, education, healthcare and transport. These are things that people actually need and they will create decent, useful jobs for people like me who need them.

By an unemployed worker in Melbourne

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