Government Remote Employment Program Too Harsh Say Critics
1 September 2017 at 5:26 pm
The Australian government’s remote employment and community development service has come under heavy scrutiny at a senate inquiry, with concerns voiced around unrealistic participation expectations and harsh penalties which are leaving people without funds.
The Community Development Program (CDP) is a scheme which the government says “supports around 33,000 remote job seekers in more than 1,000 communities to build skills, address barriers and contribute to their communities through a range of flexible activities.”
But at a senate inquiry into the CDP’s appropriateness and effectiveness, critics have said the scheme is leaving people without food due to harsh participation penalties.
Northern Territory Labor MP Chancey Paech told the inquiry he was forced to use his electorate allowance to feed people in remote communities, who have no money for food due to program-issued fines.
“You will often get calls from people in the community where they are stuck, they’ve been breached and they need money to buy the bare essentials,” Paech said.
As part of this “work-for-the-dole” system, people are fined one day’s Centrelink allowance if they miss one of their scheduled activities or are late.
But the committee heard these punishments were unreasonable, due to the long distances people often had to travel to meet their commitments.
The stringent CDP work hours have also come under fire, with remote jobseekers having to work up to three times longer than those in metropolitan work-for-the-dole programs.
The Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre is one of the CDP’s providers, working with remote job seekers to ensure the program is meeting their needs and aspirations.
In their submission to the inquiry, Tjuwanpa said the current payment system was “leaving people without funds and causing hardship to the most disadvantaged in our society.”
“It is unrealistic to expect community members to participate for 25 hours per week, 52 weeks of the year. The lack of flexibility in relation to participation is a major flaw of the current program, as it does not allow sufficient space for family, cultural and community events,” the submission said.
“In addition, many participants don’t have access to phones/communication technology to contact Tjuwanpa if they are unable to meet their participation requirements for a valid reason.”
The provider said that they would like the CDP to continue but with a number of modifications.
“Rather than abolishing CDP and starting again from scratch, Tjuwanpa would support an approach that explores what’s currently working and makes modifications where it would improve the service to people in remote areas, and better acknowledges the differences between mainstream and remote areas,” the submission said.
“[We] would like to see a reduction in the participation requirement to an average of 15 hours per week, with some flexibility from week to week, including for example, the capacity to bank hours.
“This type of participation requirement would better enable community members to meet their family and cultural obligations, while still requiring participation similar to that of a part time employee.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have voiced their disapproval of the CDP, releasing a statement that said the program was “discriminating against Indigenous people living in remote communities”.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said: “The remote work-for-the-dole CDP program is giving Indigenous workers to companies as free labour and paying them nothing. Fines are given in CDP at a rate 70 times higher than other unemployment programs.
“This program is crushing families in remote communities. They need real jobs and they need to be paid a legal wage.”
ACTU indigenous officer Lara Watson added: “The evidence being heard in the Senate inquiry is appalling but not surprising to anyone who has been following the awful evolution of CDP over the past year. This is a program which forces people to work with no OHS protection, for no wages, often doing manual labour, for 25 hours a week.
“This program replaces what little employment exists in remote communities with unpaid positions in a racially discriminatory program.”
But Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has defended the CDP, while acknowledging the program could be improved.
A spokesperson for the minister told Pro Bono News: “The CDP is making solid progress to help jobseekers get into work and off welfare, and to keep them actively engaged in their community.
“However, the government recognises more needs to be done to break the cycle of welfare dependency in remote communities.
“This is why the government is consulting on a new model for remote Australia, and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, has already stated his intention to move to a ‘wages-based’ scheme with the ability for participants to earn ‘top up’ money.”
The inquiry also heard there was a lack of consultation around the CDP, and Tjuwanpa and the ACTU both expressed that they have had no consultation with the Indigenous affairs minister.
Labor Senator Jenny McAllister said: “Every time we look at a program run by minister Scullion it turns out that he has decided to listen to his instincts rather than consult with the Indigenous community. And every time it has turned out badly.
“If the minister had bothered to consult he would have heard that CDP is making things worse, not better.”
Scullion’s spokesperson however, refuted that there was a lack of consultation around the CDP.
“Contrary to what was stated at some of the Senate Committee hearings, the minister has been consulting with CDP service providers.
“The minister will consider all feedback as part of this consultation, including the feedback from service providers and academics that are being presented to the Senate Inquiry.
“Consultations will continue before the introduction of any reforms.”