Author Archives: Owen Bennett

Making Complaints and Fighting Back

My job agency cut me off Newstart because I did not enter into a job plan – a outrageous penalty considering I was not even presented with a job plan in my appointment. My payment was delayed my almost a week because of this.

Complaint

On the 22nd of January I lodged an official complaint with the Department of Employment Customer Service Line (reference number 462 111).

My complaint covered Wesley Mission’s:

  1. failure to present me with a job plan to sign;
  2. demand I attend a weekly appointment despite job plan saying monthly;
  3. insistence that I would have to transfer if I refused and;
  4. bullying approach towards me

The Department of Employment Customer Service Line informed me that “my job agency can negotiate with me to attend as many appointments as required”.

When I questioned how the government could give job agencies such power over unemployed workers, the staff member said it was up to unemployed workers to negotiate with agencies. I told them I was told I could not negotiate, and the staff member acknowledged this was wrong. But at the same time, the staff member acknowledged that “the harder you push, the harder they are going push against it” and said I may need to go to Centrelink to get my personal circumstances recognised.

The Department escalated my complaint and said my job agency will be required to discuss it with me at my next appointment

Centrelink Participations Team

A few days after I made this complaint, I received a letter from my job agency stating I have to attend an appointment only one week after my previous appointment. This was a clear breach of my job plan which states I am required to attend monthly appointments.

I did not attend the appointment, and I got cut of my Newstart for the second time in a few days.  I contacted the Centrelink Participations Team (Reference number: 172 988) to resolve the issue.

I informed the Participations team that my job agency was unfairly forcing me to attend weekly appointments despite my current job plan says I am required to attend monthly appointments.I asked Centrelink to put me back on the payment given that I should have never been made to attend a weekly appointment. I was informed by the staff member that they “can’t” and that I needed to go back to my job agency to resolve this issue.

I reminded them that under social security law, “Employment services providers do not make compliance decisions under social security law. Providers report non-compliance to DHS, for DHS to make compliance penalty decisions.” The staff member, Penny disagreed. She said that “Centrelink do not make all compliance decisions. Employment services make some and Centrelink make some”. I once again read out the social security law, saying that Centrelink has the power to make all compliance decisions and that, by law, Centrelink is obligated to look into each penalty and impose the correct decision.

Penny disagreed and became defensive, reminding me of my obligation to “look for work”. I asked to speak to Penny’s supervisor.

After explaining my situation, the supervisor informed me that I need to go back to my job agency to resolve the issue.He backed up Penny saying that Centrelink are not able to put me back on the payment. He also informed me that Centrelink do not make all compliance decisions – according to him its a “shared responsibility”. I read out the social security law again, and once again, the staff member got defensive and reminded my of my obligations to “look for work”.

I was shocked. Both members of staff were failing to uphold social security law. I had been on the phone for 3 hours. I had no choice but to go back to my job agency.

Job Agency

I called Wesley Mission and organised a “re-engagement” appointment for the 31st of January.

At the appointment I once again had a new case manager. She informed me that the Department of Employment had contacted them about my complaint. She acknowledged that I wasn’t treated the way I should have been. That was all she said about it.

She told me that I need to sign a new job plan. She said she was prepared to negotiate regarding the frequency of appointments. She said she “couldn’t” do monthly appointments but suggested an appointment every three weeks. I accepted and signed the new job plan.

My job agent also informed me that I would have to do Work for the Dole soon. I told her that I would like to do voluntary activity at the National Union of Workers again, like I have done previously. She informed me that: “Last time it didn’t get you a job so I won’t be accepting it this time. You haven’t work for a while so WFTD will be helpful for you to get you into employment”.

Once again my job agency was refusing me my right to negotiate a fair job plan. This would mean yet another fight.

Complaint to Centrelink

On the 14th of February, I made a complaint to Centrelink about the incorrect information I was given on the Centrelink Participations Line. I informed them that I was deeply concerned that two staff members were failing to uphold an crucial component of social security law. I requested that the phone line be investigated.

My complaint was processed and escalated and I was told I would be contacted by Centrelink in 10 business days.

Appointment With Wesley Mission

I arrived at Wesley Mission (Flemington) at around 2:40pm for my 2:45pm appointment.

As usual, I went to the computers to wait for my job agent to call me.

3:00pm – no sign of my job agent.

3:30pm – still nothing.

I wondered how long would I have to wait for them to notice I was still here.

By 3:50pm, they had won the stand off. I went to the desk to ask what was happening.

“Were you waiting in the waiting area?”, the receptionist asked me, as if it was my fault I had been left waiting for over an hour.

“No, I was by the computers”.

The receptionist went to go talk to the job agent.

A few minutes later, my job agent came out and called me in.

“When did you arrive?”

She seemed a bit unnerved and was looking at me strangely – probably something to do with the unemployed worker who I heard threaten to punch a job agent 30 minutes earlier.

“I arrived at 2:40 – I have been waiting for a long time”, I said.

She checked the computer.

“The receptionist sent me the message at 3:11pm to tell me you were here”, she said in a matter of fact way, as if to imply maybe I was the one who was late.

Once the appointment got underway, she informed me that Wesley Mission have “new rules” which mean I will have to come in once a week. As usual, there was no discussion about actually getting me a job. Straight off the bat, my job agent was making sure they were hitting their Key Performance Indicators.

“I don’t want to come in once a week”, I said. “My job plan says I only have to come in once a month”.

“That job plan needs to be updated”, she said.

I was explained to my job agent that I had arranged to come in once a month with my previous job plan because I was studying full time and engaging in voluntary work.

My job agent was unmoved. She told me that it was now Wesley Mission’s policy to make every stream B and C come in once a week while stream A’s were required to come in once a fortnight.

“My hands are tied. I cannot make any exceptions.”

If was unable or unwilling to come in once a week, I was told I should transfer to a different job agency.

“I am not transferring. I have a right to attend monthly appointments, which is why my job plan says I have to attend monthly appointments”, I said.

My job agent informed me the new requirements were “non-negotiable”.

“Are you familiar with the deed?”, I asked her.

“What deed?” she said, eyes wide.

“It’s the contract signed between your job agency and the government. In that contract it says clearly that I can attend monthly appointments”, I said.

She ignored what I said and repeated that Wesley Mission now have “new rules”.

“If you come in next week we can sort all this out and work on a new job plan”, she said.

“I already told you, I do not want to come in next week. My job plan says that I can come in monthly. You are breaking my job plan”. I was getting frustrated now.

My job agent told me that cause my job plan needed to be updated, it was already broken.

“If you do not want to come in weekly, you need to transfer”, she said.

Someone who appeared to be a manager then came to speak to me.

“When we tendered for our contract, we made an agreement with the government that in our Service Delivery Plan we would provide weekly appointments”, she explained.

I was informed that I had been with Wesley for 96 weeks. Why was I only being informed of this Service Delivery Plan plan now?

“The whole time I have been here, I haven’t been referred to one job. Why would I want to come in weekly even if I had the time? You can’t just make up your own rules. Are you saying that it is impossible for me to attend monthly appointments while with Wesley?”

“Our Service Delivery Plan requires weekly appointments”, she replied before stating I should explore transferring to another agency.

“I am going to lodge a complaint about with the Department of Employment”, I said.

“About me saying you can transfer?”, the manager asked straight faced.

After I explained the obvious, she said Wesley will put it in the system that a job plan was not signed and I would be contacted by Centrelink ‘today’ or ‘tomorrow’.

“So my payments will be cut off?”, I asked.

“Thats up to Centrelink to decide. They will be in contact with you. We do not want to waste any more of your time”.

It was 4:20pm – I had been there for one hour and 30 minutes and had not discussed anything relating to finding employment. All had been achieved is that I had effectively been kicked off my entitlement because I wanted to stick to my current job plan.

“You will be hearing from the department”, I said before walking out of the office.