Fears Australia faces a Work for the Dole 'time bomb'
23 June 2020 at 5:05 pm
Experts say mutual obligation requirements for welfare recipients must be overhauled
Growing unemployment in wake of the global pandemic could force more than 200,000 Australians onto the federal government’s Work for the Dole scheme, new research warns.
As mutual obligation requirements for welfare recipients slowly return after a COVID-related hiatus, the latest report from progressive think tank Per Capita said the system cannot remain in its current form post-lockdown.
Researchers said these requirements – such as making jobseekers attend regular appointments with an employment services provider – would be unreasonable in a labour market where competition for jobs will be fierce.
The report also called for the government’s Work for the Dole (WFTD) scheme to be disbanded and replaced with a “genuine work experience program for people experiencing long-term unemployment”.
Per Capita said WFTD – which is currently mandatory for those unemployed for more than 12 months – was a “time bomb”. It estimated that in a year’s time, the program will cost an extra $22 million, as 220,000 more people are forced onto it and required to work 25 hours a week in job placements for at least half the year.
The report said there was strong evidence WFTD reduced work availability and caused harm to people suffering from unemployment-related poverty and financial stress.
Per Capita’s executive director, Emma Dawson, said the government must reform WFTD and the broader mutual obligation framework “before throwing any more money” into the system.
“As it stands, the system simply does not help people find jobs, or support skills development,” Dawson said.
“Work for the Dole is also inherently risky for participants, who are not covered by existing workplace laws such as Workcover, and are too often forced into unsafe working environments.
“The government should redirect its funding to genuine work experience programs that can support communities to recover from the economic shock resulting from COVID-19 and the recent bushfires.”
Per Capita estimated that returning to the current mutual obligation system will cost $322 million.
Some of this is on top of the $1.3 billion already allocated to the government’s outsourced JobActive program – which was lambasted by a Senate committee last year for being ineffective and a barrier to work.
The report said the mutual obligation framework must be overhauled through consultation with employers, industry groups, unemployed people, employment service providers and social services organisations.
It said the new mutual obligations system should be personalised according to each unemployed person’s individual circumstances and work history.
“It is time to review the mutual obligation system so that it is fair for everyone, and to ensure that government expenditure on labour market programs achieves everyone’s shared aim: helping people get into jobs,” the report said.
Anti-poverty advocates demand action
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) agrees with the recommendations in the report.
In a statement provided to Pro Bono News, the AUWU said the WFTD program was dangerous and unfit for jobseekers, many of whom were worried their payments may be lost if they reported concerns.
“A genuine, non-compulsory work experience or job guarantee program where people are paid a proper wage would be much more beneficial to the health and wellbeing of unemployed people, as well as the economy,” the AUWU said.
The AUWU is calling for the abolishment of mutual obligations and WFTD as they currently stand.
“Our current concerns with mutual obligations are that they’re not providing the support needed to jobseekers, with many claiming that they were being unfairly harassed during the suspension of mutual obligations,” the AUWU said.
“With millions now unemployed due to COVID-19, the idea of the mutual obligations and job search requirements as they were before the pandemic will place an unfair burden on jobseekers and employers alike.”