You wouldn’t think that Steve was unemployed if you passed him in the street or sat next to him on public transport. He certainly does not fit the image of the ‘scruffy, lazy-stoner-living off-my-taxes’. He’s well groomed and neatly dressed. He looks like any other average office worker or salesman at the end of the day.
A closer look though, reveals a worried man deep in thought, and Steve’s thoughts are dark. In fact, he’s clawing at the edge of utter despair and hanging on by his fingernails
He’s been unable to find work for over two years after finishing a TAFE course in visual arts. There aren’t a lot of openings in visual arts right now but Steve keeps trying. He’s knocked on doors, cold called, and written enough resumes and covering letters to carpet a small country, and there’s no doubting him when he says he wants a job.
His Job Network provider thinks that he isn’t trying hard enough and pushes him to do more.
“I’ve done everything” he says. “I have knocked on doors and gone around to business’s large and small. They just tell me that they haven’t got any vacancies and if they did, they’d advertise.”
“I can’t sleep”, he says. “I get up in the middle of the night and walk around the park asking my self; “where are the jobs,where are the jobs? I was living at home but it was causing too much tension. My parents can’t seem to understand why I can’t get a job, so now I’m couch surfing with friends.”
Steve’s not alone.
According to the labour force statistics released by the ABS in July, there are 151,400 full time jobs with over 800,000 unemployed as well as another 1,046,500 under employed vying for them. (ABS labour force July 2015).
Under the changes implemented by the new welfare rules, Steve now has to undertake a Work for the Dole project.
“They want me to work in aged-care. I don’t know anything about aged care!” he despairs. What if some one falls or chokes? What do I do?” His distress is palpable and his tension is strung as tight as a piano wire. “I’ve got $5 to last me a week.”
Under the new regulations, the JNS providers must have all recipients of the Newstart related payment signed up for a Work for the Dole scheme by August 16th in order to fulfil their contractual agreements.
The haste in which this is trying to be achieved would raise eyebrows in a pig sty as the multi-national and charity owned providers scramble for their share of government subsidies trough.
This has resulted in a chaos as JNS providers strong arm the unemployed into unpaid positions for up to 25 hours a week in-between searching for 40 jobs a fortnight depending on age. Single mothers and those in the 35 to 45yo bracket must work 15 hours and look for 20 jobs a fortnight. The over 50’s to 65s must find ‘voluntary work’ at their own recognisance.
The stick is suspension or cancellation of benefits should the ‘client’ fail to comply.
For the unemployed, there is no carrot.
Australian Unemployed Union secretary Owen Bennet, says most people on Newstart sign up without being aware of their rights to refuse or re-negotiate the terms of their mutual obligation and work for the dole contracts.
“The AUU and other organisations such as the Dole Action Group are trying to get an advocacy system up an running so that people are aware of the rights and are not going in cold, and that they can turn to us for help.
People like Steve are under incredible stress just to make ends meet on a payment that is $280 below the poverty line. Many are so beaten, down-trodden and weary, that they don’t have the strength to fight back.”
There’s can be little doubt that the Abbott government is moribund and the vultures are already circling. Speculation is mounting again over a leadership challenge but it’s more likely that an early election will be called in either November or at the latest, March 2016 to enable Abbott to save face and fall on his own sword and allow the LNP to limit the damage rather than face a total wipe-out later in the year.
For ALP and The Green’s however, there’s still many a slip twixt cup and lip, and policies aimed at promoting full employment and providing an increase in welfare payments should be at the top of the ‘must do’ list.
It’s not always easy to recognise the members of the invisible army of the unemployed like Steve but they’re growing in number and they make up for a powerful voting bloc.
As Steve rises to leave, someone at the meeting surreptitiously attempts to slip $20 into his coat pocket. He finds it and tries to withdraw his hand. Someone grabs him by the wrist, forcing his hand to stay in his pocket.
Someone reassures him that the AUU will provide him with advocacy at his JNS meeting and that he’s not alone.
Tears start to well in his eyes.
But not in mine. I’m a hard-hearted bastard.
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