From Little Acorns: The Unemployed Hit Back!
By Edward Eastwood
Sauro -“call me, Sam”, is standing in the front row of a line of protesters outside the Melbourne headquarters of Maxx Employment in Collins Street, and wearing a sign that reads ‘No Child Poverty In Australia’.
“When I come-a to this country from Tuscany in 1956, there were plenty jobs if-a you wanna work hard” he says.
“I go to work-a Dulux paints for ten years but then-a they moving, so I go to work-a Boral Bricks. Thirty six years as a brick-maker. Everybody happy!
Is good wages and overtime. I only collect a part pension but I no complain. I’m not short of a dollar because I work-a hard!” and he throws back his head and laughs in the way only Italians can.
“The government should look after his family” he adds. “When I come here the government make-a the jobs, now the government break-a the jobs. Where you gonna find a job now? What’s going on?”
It’s July 1st, and the unemployed are fighting back against the new rules imposed by the government as part of its re-vamped ‘Jobactive’ policy.
Sam is one of fifty people who have turned at a ‘Fight the Fine’ protest organised by the Australian Unemployed Union.
Mark, another protestor, says that he’s been unable to get a job after finishing his marketing and commerce degree at Monash two years ago. “There’s nothing out there. I went to an information session with my Jobactive provider yesterday. They took us three at a time for an induction session to explain the new rules. When we repeatedly asked “where are the jobs to apply for?”, they kept evading the question and fell back on the “well, these are the new rules, and if you can’t find a job you’ll have to work for the dole” mantra. It’s disgusting and degrading.”
At the entrance to Maxx Employment, union president, Owen Bennet unlimbers his loud hailer and explains that the government has given its new contractors the right to breach job-seekers for non-attendance to Jobactive providers.
Under previous Job Network/Job Services provider schemes only Centrelink had the authority to breach job-seekers for failing to attend appointments.
These breaches were harsh enough, an 18% reduction for 26 weeks for the first offence, a 24% reduction over the same period for a second offence and no benefits for eight weeks for a third or fourth offence.
Under the new model, the power to breach offenders will be will be extended to the Jobactive providers and carry an additional fine of $50 for non-attendance, which is approximately 10% of their fortnightly payment.
It’s just one more indignity heaped on those who find themselves out of work and at the mercy of the system and the work-for-the dole scheme.
The AUU is one of three representative bodies that have arrived to protest. The National Workers Union of Australia is also providing support, as is the Dole Action Group.
“Dole Action is all about opposing the Job Services Provider system and the work-for-the-dole scheme” says DA representative Oliver Laverton.
“Many of these agencies have been exposed as fraudulent, yet the system continues to leech billions in government subsidies each year. They also know that thanks to successive government’s adopting neo-liberal economic models, that there aren’t enough jobs to go around. How can people hope to get employment when there’s more than ten applicants for every vacancy?”
“In the UK, the breaching system as taken a cruel and terrible toll on the disabled, the mentally ill as a result of its practices.
David Clapham, a diabetic died as a result of having his welfare payment cut off for missing two appointments and had been unable to afford the electricity bill to keep his insulin refrigerated.”
“The work-for-the-dole scheme is a sham” he explains. “Its part of a push to turn welfare into workfare and put downward pressure on the wages of all workers. The main beneficiaries are the employers. They’re simply using welfare claimants as a source of unpayed labour.
“The positions that the government is creating through its work-for-the-dole schemes should be paid positions”.
Like the AUU, the Dole Action Group runs an on-line support service for the unemployed where they can consult their rights including privacy, before signing contracts or agreements.
“The most difficult obstacle for me to overcome on the dole was not to consider myself as worthless” says Laverton.
“Contrary to what the MSM might say, being unemployed is really stressful. It takes a lot of work just to keep your head up on a daily basis and try to remain optimistic. If you suffer from depression it can really do some damage”.
“For people who are unemployed, the DA’s message is that it’s not your f*cking fault – fight it! We can overcome this with collective organising.”
In the doorway to Maxx, Owen Bennett finishes his speech and urges the crowd to; “Stand up and fight back!”
At first, the response is mild but Bennett perseveres. “What are you going to do? Stand up and fight back” the response is louder this time and when Bennett asks the crowd for a third time; STAND UP AND FIGHT BACK! comes back loud and clear.
History is punctuated with small gatherings and grass roots level organisations that became mass movements. There were fifty-three representatives from the thirteen colonies who met to discuss American independence from Britain. There were fifty six members of the Chinese Communist Party who met in Shanghai in 1921.
There were fifty or so protesters who gathered outside Maxx Employment to voice their opposition to the Jobactive scheme.
From little acorns…
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It’s sometimes hard to be part of these protests if you are unemployed and can’t afford the fares to get to them 🙁
What a terrible irony.
I am so ashamed to be Australian. Who are we ? What are we doing ? Why are we treating some of our citizens as less than others ?
I heard this. OMG now corporations that wilfully steal from taxpayers (Maxx – check out Four Corners) are given powers only the government previously had. I keep saying, “I couldn’t be more disgusted.” But next day I am MORE disgusted.
Still further signs of the inequality being nurtured under the prevailing neo-liberal economic/political philosophy that has become far too dominant since 1981 …… time for the tide to turn ……
Keitha: I know it is damn depressing however many of us are fighting to make things better and we ain’t giving up.
A couple of months ago Four Corners aired an episode dedicated to the fraudulent and incompetent job agencies. Unemployed people were having their payments stopped for not attending interviews, when they actually had attended and it was the job agency employee who did not attend. These people are living from week to week and they have no savings. The ability to cut their payments and cause extreme hardship due to the incompetence of some job agency is quite disturbing.
It beggars belief that these fraudulent leeches are being given this kind of power. They may as well put the mafia in charge of the unemployed.
The current system gives about $1.3 billion-a-year to the contractors. Since the Howard government effectively privatised the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) 17 years ago, more than $18 billion has been spent on the welfare to work program.
They say that the Commonwealth Employment Service was more expensive but far more helpful at assisting long-term unemployed people back into work.
But far be it from the Conservatives to invest money in a system that works. They can’t understand the multiplier effect of actually having people employed because they are too busy being trickled down on by their donors. They use supply side thinking for job service providers as well – paying them to enrol the unemployed on their books does nothing to create jobs for anyone except the contractors.
If they were serious about addressing unemployment they would bring back the CES where businesses could advertise for staff for free and case managers actually linked people up with jobs.
“If they were serious about addressing unemployment they would bring back the CES where businesses could advertise for staff for free and case managers actually linked people up with jobs.”
They’re not serious Kaye Lee. And so long as there’s no discernible backlash from the electorate don’t expect any effort from this government to get unemployment much below where it is today. I mean, it’s only a tad higher than the RBA’s sweet-spot, the ‘non-accelerating-inflation-rate-of-unemployment’.
Rather than abandoning their ideological obsessions and doing something constructive about job creation (a government’s most sacred duty after defence) it’s easier to punish and demonise the unemployed. But we know all that.
How long before we have a modern day Leni Riefenstahl churning out “documentaries” for the government on the life-styles of the unemployed, complete with rat metaphors, in jarring black-and-white?
The CES? Yes, it worked! Too bloody well it seems.
Dr Karl is regretting his foray into propaganda.
The only way to get ahead with this government is to deliberately defraud them, sweep it unseen under the carpet and come back with your hand out. Max has it down pat.
Gerry ; they probably are!