Work for the dole doesn’t work

Originally published 20 August 2014 by Aphra.

In a fashion that has come to define the current federal government, the Coalition recently announced its intention to expand the reach of its cruel and degrading policies by reintroducing the work-for-the-dole scheme. From July 2015 it is proposed that job seekers under 30 years of age will engage in 25 hours of community service a week, while those aged 30-49 will complete 15 hours, and apply for 40 jobs a month.

The work-for-the dole scheme was previously implemented in 1998; a hallmark feature of the Howard government, the initiative was in fact the brainchild of Tony Abbott, who was a junior minister at the time. The Labor government under Julia Gillard later rolled back the policy, reducing the extent of the scheme.

The current government holds the belief that working for the dole will encourage the long-term unemployed to be less picky in their quest to secure work. Affectionately nicknamed ‘job snobs’ by Abbott and his cohorts, this latest announcement is merely an expansion of malevolent polices designed to disproportionately target the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Work-for-the-dole does not work and the reintroduction of the program has little to do with enhancing the prospects of the unemployed, but rather, smacks of ideology. An empirical study completed by Professor Jeff Borland from the University of Melbourne on the efficacy of the Howard government’s work-for-the-dole scheme in the 2000s conclusively found that such initiatives do not help people find jobs. In fact, the study discovered that work-for-the-dole had adverse effects on participants, and those who engaged in the scheme were less likely to move off welfare payments than those Newstart recipients who did not participate. This was because those who engaged in the work-for-the-dole program had a reduced amount of time to spend on job seeking and viewed such activities as work.

The inadequacies of the Howard government’s work-for-the-dole policy and its proposed reincarnation under Abbott are readily apparent. Firstly, the scheme does little to enhance the skill set and employability of those who participate. Long-term unemployed individuals who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds often require further education and training programs to bolster their skills. Engaging in low skilled, compulsory work-for-the-dole tasks, such as picking weeds or collecting rubbish, does little to further their chances of securing employment. Secondly and most crucially, work-for-the-dole has no influence on the job market and does not increase the number of vacant positions available.

Despite this evidence, the federal government is not prepared to let facts get in the way of ideology. Appearing on ABC’s Lateline, the Minister for Employment Senator Eric Abetz had this to say on the matter:

‘What we’re asking most of the job seekers to do is to seek a job of a morning and of an afternoon and I think that is a reasonable request to make of our fellow Australians…’.

When questioned over the feasibility of applying for 40 jobs a month in places like Tasmania where there are limited jobs available, the good Senator offered the logical response that ‘when jobs are sparse, it means that you’ve got to apply for more jobs to get a job’.

Abetz’s sentiments are misguided if not plain delusional. As someone who was recently unemployed for six months, I can attest to the difficulty and time consuming nature of searching and applying for jobs. Preparing a job application took up the better part of the day as such applications generally required written responses to selection criteria, a cover letter and resume. This was a lengthy and arduous process for which there were often no returns. Despite having a Bachelor and Masters degree and plenty of real-world professional experience, out of the roughly 120 jobs I applied for over this time period, I was invited to attend four interviews and received no job offers. How then, would someone such as myself realistically apply for a job ‘of a morning and of an afternoon’ on top of 25 hours of community service?

Worse still are the prospects for those who have lower levels of education and professional experience. As an alternative to the work-for-the-dole scheme, Professor Borland proposes that the government introduce small-scale, local initiatives, where low-skilled, unemployed Newstart recipients can participate in training activities with a not-for-profit organisation or hospitality business and obtain a formal qualification upon completion, which in turn would enhance their employability.

Rather than assist job seekers to find employment, the government is set on demonising the unemployed. The best way to reduce unemployment is to increase economic growth. Despite Tony Abbott’s promise to create ‘one million jobs’ over five years, the opposite has so far occurred, with unemployment rates rising to a current ten year high of 6.4 per cent. The Coalition’s current policies display a rigid adherence to ideology rather than pragmatism. Instead of punishing those less fortunate through incessant welfare bashing, the government could instead be creating practical opportunities designed to enhance the outlook for those on Newstart while stimulating growth in the job market.


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