By CHRISTIANE BARRO
Claims that at least one in four job seekers are abusing the dole system by refusing work or failing to turn up to job interviews are simply wrong, Newstart recipients and the Unemployed Workers’ Union say.
Between July 1 and September 30, 2015, more than 270,000 job seekers had their welfare payments suspended.
The Department of Human Services said dole recipients were “skipping job interviews or failing to accept decent work” because of excuses that they could not manage to work three hours a day or their job would interfere with “playing golf”, it was reported in news.com.au.
Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union president Owen Bennett said this “couldn’t be further from the truth”.
“The Government is peddling this myth to justify its own failure to create enough work for everyone,” Mr Bennett said.
There were 160,300 job vacancies Australia-wide in March, according to the Department of Employment.
ABS figures say there were 729,600 unemployed people in that same month. People who are unemployed, over the age of 22 and seeking work are eligible to receive income support in the form of Newstart Allowance.
Former dole recipient Tricia said being a receiver of Newstart Allowance was “one of the most demoralising, frustrating and weirdest times” of her life.
Newstart recipients must comply with their mutual obligation requirements, which are activities that need to be done to continue to receive income support.
Tricia was required to submit 14 job applications a month.
She said she was “distraught as to how she would be able to meet that requirement”. Her social worker told her to apply for jobs she had no qualifications or experience in.
Tricia is in her final year of studying social work at James Cook University. She transitioned to the Newstart Allowance after she was taken off Austudy.
Tricia said she was told to apply for jobs in the teaching, nursing and medical field.
“I don’t have my nursing degree, I’ve never been a nurse, and I don’t have my teaching degree either. They told me to do it anyway and to write it down.”
“(I was) told I should be applying for jobs as a surgeon when I’m in my fourth year of social work,” she said.
Tricia said this process was not about helping people get into jobs.
“I didn’t even get a response. Why would I get a response? All its doing is wasting people’s time … (they were) bullshit applications, you shouldn’t even be submitting,” she said.
Mr Bennett said the system was designed to be “unpleasant”.
“It is a system designed to make unemployment and the experience of unemployment as unpleasant as possible so as an unemployed person you’re going to be pushed out into the labour market and you’re going to apply for everything you possibly can,” he said.
To maintain her income support, Tricia would be randomly called to attend mandatory vocational training sessions run by a consultant at the job search agency.
The training involved “really demoralising stuff” such as learning how to speak on the phone, how to present herself in an interview and how to improve her resume and make it more appealing to future employers, Tricia said.
Monica*, who receives the Newstart Allowance, said Job Network providers should be removed from the job-seeking process.
“They are not supportive and are based on the idea that most people who are long-term unemployed have never worked, don’t know how to get a job or get up on time for work, write a resume, or dress for an interview,” she added.
Tricia said this process might have worsened her medical condition because of “the complete angst, anxiety, stress and just the whole disempowerment process”.
“I believe the condition would have been somewhat more manageable without the treatment I’ve received from Centrelink,” she added.
Fortunately, Tricia got back onto Austudy and said if she had “not attended or been late one more time”, they would have suspended her then.
Monica said she had been wrongly suspended from Newstart on three occasions and had to fight to be reinstated each time. “You cannot be a bludger, sit on your backside all day long, and receive Newstart,” she said.
In early 2015, Centrelink sent her an important email, incorrectly dating the year as 1970.
She was suspended because she could not respond in a timely manner as the message went directly to the bottom of her email account.
“I actually didn’t see it, and of course didn’t respond. Fortunately, I was able to show proof of this so that I could be reinstated,” Monica said.
Monica was suspended again based on an allegation that she did not attend an appointment with Centrelink. Monica said the Centrelink officer had forgotten to mark her present during the appointment.
“I was lucky I remembered quite a bit of detail of the interview including the officer’s name and managed to get through on the phones and managed to find a customer service officer who was reasonable and able to search around and find what had happened,” she said.
Monica was suspended for a third time because she was accused of deliberately not attending an interview after she made enquiries about working for her job network provider.
She said she was “interrogated” for at least half an hour when a staff member found out her case manager forgot to put ‘au’ at the end of an email detailing the time and day of the interview.
“Of course there was no apology and I was still suspended and had to fight to get reinstated.
“It’s exhausting staying on Newstart and at times it can be full-time job itself … I hardly think the stereotype of the ‘dole bludger’ sitting around drinking and taking drugs has the skill set to manage this,” Monica said.
Centrelink also failed to recognise Monica’s spinal disorder properly, she said. This is despite the fact she provided the appropriate documentation, which detailed that she could not work more than eight hours a week.
According to the Department of Human Services, those unfit to work for eight hours or more are able to apply for exemptions after being assessed on the extent to which their medical condition affects their ability to work.
“This assessment was not done by a medical professional but an administrator,” Monica said.
“It doesn’t matter what your GP says. I have even had a work capacity assessment done on the phone, so they didn’t even see me. It appeared to me that they had already made up their minds and filling in the form was a formality.”
Her medical certificate stated she is not fit for any sort of physical labour, repeated standing or sitting and that she should have a break every 10 minutes.
Monica said her Centrelink officer responded: “Well then, you wouldn’t get anything done if you did that would you?”
Mr Bennett said the employment services industry needed to be nationalised and placed under government control.
He said there should be a system “that didn’t have that profit motive and could be designed in a way to provide effective employment services” without “private companies racing each other for a quick buck”.
Centrelink refused to comment.