Author Archives: AUWU

Call For Volunteers

The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union is currently looking for a number of volunteers to occupy pivotal roles within the national union structure. Applicants will be required to attend interviews, either in person if in Melbourne or on the phone.

Please send through all expressions of interest to

The briefs for the vacant positions are as follows:

  • Secretary (Melbourne Branch)

Summary: The Secretary is the beating heart of the Melbourne branch. In addition to occupying a position on the Melbourne branch executive (the highest decision making body of the branch), the Secretary is responsible for organising and structuring union administration.

Job Description: The Secretary is responsible for

(i) Keeping minutes for meetings
(ii) Creating agendas
(iii) Overseeing union correspondence
(iv) Contributing to union’s community Organising and engagement
(iv) Liaising with members and community groups
(v)  Help develop campaigns and strategies through exectutive

Required Skills: Friendly, methodical, moderate IT skills (Gmail, Google Drive, Action Network), eexcellent organisational skills, administration experience, team player

Required Commitment: Two days per week voluntary activity

  • Branch Coordinator

Summary: The Branch Coordinator is responsible for overseeing the establishment and organisation of AUWU branches across Australia. Consequently, the Branch Coordinator is a central figure in building union power and empowering unemployed workers across Australia.

Job Description: The Branch Coordinator is responsible for

(i) Responding to emails from prospective and established AUWU branches
(ii) Building networks across AUWU branches
(iii) Community organising and engagement
(iv) Liaising with members and community groups
(v) Helping to develop campaigns and strategies
(vi) Activist development
(vii) Event management
Required Skills: Excellent communication skills, excellent organisational and logistics skills, excellent relationship building skills, administration experience.
Required Commitment:  Two days per week voluntary activity

  • Communications Working Group Volunteers

Summary: The AUWU is currently organising a Communications Working Group. This group will be responsible for creating artwork, leaflets, posters, and any other printed material, as well as managing our online content, and social media accounts. Ideally, Comms members will be in regular communication.

We’d love to hear from anyone who can help us with:

  • graphic design (Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop etc.)
  • drawing and illustration (traditional or digital media)
  • web design and development (html, CSS, JS, PHP etc.)
  • filming, video editing
  • TV, radio and public relations experience,
  • social media management (facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.)
  • research, writing (media releases, news articles, blogs), copy-editing




Dignity NOT Debt: RALLY to End Centrelink Debt Debacle Press Release


Dignity NOT Debt

RALLY to End Centrelink Debt Debacle

Abolition of the Centrelink Debt Recovery Scheme” is the central demand of a rally being organised by the Australian Unemployed Workers Union on Tuesday 31 January, 12.30pm at the State Library in Melbourne.

President of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Owen Bennett, said that “The Turnbull Government’s automated debt recovery system has sent around one-quarter of a million debt notices to social security recipients. Up to 90% of these notices are are estimated to be incorrect.

Centrelink staff have been instructed that they are not allowed to fix obvious errors in the debt notices, unless the recipient of the debt notice makes a formal complaint.

Some people who are now working full-time have just paid back the debts even though they are incorrect because of the difficulties of getting through to Centrelink to make a formal complaint. Others feel intimidated or bullied into accepting the debt notices, even though they are incorrect.

Up to 90% of the debt notices which have been reviewed randomly have been found to be incorrect. The consequences of these notices is horrific and could result in an increase in attempted suicides and people losing their housing because they can’t afford the rent or mortgage,

Up to 90% of the debt notices which have been reviewed randomly have been found to be incorrect. The consequences of these notices is horrific and could result in an increase in attempted suicides and people losing their housing because they can’t afford the rent or mortgage. Some of our members are facing jail time for debts they may not even owe.

“This system is a shameless continuation of the Coalition’s mission to criminalise social security recipients and dismantle the social security system as a whole. The Dignity Not Debt movement is committed to fighting Turnbull’s punitive approach every step of the way” said Bennett.

The ‘Dignity Not Debt: End Centrelink Debt Debacle’ rally has received broad endorsement, including from organisations like the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Fair Go for Pensioners, Council of Single Mothers and their Children and the Homeless Persons Union. The endorsement list indicates that the Centrelink debt notices are hitting a broad range of groups in the community.

Details of the rally are:

Tuesday 31 January, 12.30

State Library, corner Swanston St and La Trobe St, Melbourne CBD
The rally will then march to the Liberal Party headquarters in Exhibition Street.

Speakers will include: Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale, Freedom from Poverty founder Duncan Storrar and NUS Education Officer Anneke Demanuele. Others include First Nations community leader Meriki Onus, Australian Unemployed Workers Union President Owen Bennett, Zach Brady from Centrelink Class Action and Sue Bolton from Socialist Alliance and Moreland councillor.

For Media comment:

Owen Bennett /


The first of a series of AUWU articles on government graft and corruption as it relates to welfare and work in Australia

By Brenton Thomas, AUWU Member

While the government is defending its latest debacle in the name of budget repair its worth remembering the billions of dollars of graft that friends and families from both sides of politics have pocketed over the last twenty years courtesy of the government’s privatisation of employment services and education.

Graft is the adding on to the cost for something not needed.  It is payment for unnecessary items.  In the construction industry, it is paying for Soprano style labourers who sit around doing nothing.   It is payment for ten tons of concrete on a job that only needs one.   In the governments employment services industry it is paying from the public purse for companies that do nothing.

The rort is fairly simple and has changed little over a series of contracts over the years. When you become unemployed the government will require you to register with a private Job Services Agency that will be paid when you find work or enter training – regardless of whether they found the job for you or not.

They will use the lowest paid staff they can get away with who will diligently tick boxes, generate evidence of activity and invoice the government.  It’s a simple license to print money that feeds off the normal background churn of people moving in and out of jobs.

The beneficiaries of this rort look like a who’s who of Australia’s elite.  Sarina Russo the ‘Successful Business Woman’ that Sussan Ley was caught out visiting on the taxpayers dime.  Teresa Rein wife of former Prime Minster Kevin Rudd and founder and managing director of the employment services and training company Ingeus.  David Gonski author of the Gonski report also with Ingeus as chairman.

Not to be outdone by the A-list elites we can add in former public servants who presumably weren’t hired because of their knowledge of the private sector. Darren Hooper from US based Max Employment, formerly of the Department of Employment and the Department of the Prime Minister whose contacts with government awards Max employment the dubious honour of managing to get the Department of Employment to overlook significant allegations of fraud and be granted the lions’ share of the new deed.

Not content with money for nothing, the use of punitive employment policies together with VET-FEE Help take milking the public purse to levels of a fine art.  The longer you are unemployed the more onerous the demands on you will become until you are in their offices every day of the week applying for Jobs that aren’t there on pain of losing your benefit if you don’t comply.  You will be bullied, harassed and lied to systemically.

To escape punishment of course you can do a training course – which will be paid for by the VET-FEE budget and if your agency is affiliated with a training company they will now start earning big dollars.

This is against both the letter and the principal of the Law and Deed and occurs with full knowledge of the Department of Employment.  You though are signed on with a private company and as such are outside the protection of both the Ombudsman’s Office and Administrative Affairs Tribunal.  To seek remedy, you need to sue – but you are unemployed so can’t afford that and the government has cut the funding to the Community Legal services just in case you thought you had any rights at all.

Feeling powerless, disenfranchised, cheated, abused and sick and tired of greedy politicians and self-appointed elites?  The first thing you can do is make noise. Take some lessons from the Greens and the Indigenous groups.  Get involved. Join groups such as the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, various facebook groups. Every time someone in Canberra does anything you don’t like make sure a hundred other people hear you.

You have a legal right to complain.  So lodge complaints. When they don’t respond to your complaint lodge a complaint about the lack of response to the complaint you just lodged.  Make life as miserable for the bastards as they make yours.

Demand a full time independent Federal ICAC.

Above all the most powerful thing you can do is use your vote – with a twist.

If you are happy with the political system then vote for your local representative no matter what party they belong to.  If you are dissatisfied, then vote against the sitting representative. Ignore the political party even if that means you vote against your traditional vote. The objective is to disrupt the process. To send a great big Trumpian middle finger in the direction of Canberra.

Out of the house!
Vote the Bastards Out!

Editorial: Admit Centrelink system is broken and then fix it

January 5, 2017 10:00pm
The Government needs to actually admit there are real problems with the new system to catch fraud and overpayments and suspend it.
The Government needs to actually admit there are real problems with the new system to catch fraud and overpayments and suspend it.

WHEN a government agency tasked with assisting some of the most vulnerable Australians is reduced to suggesting on Twitter that clients seek help via Lifeline, perhaps it is time to acknowledge there might be a problem.

In recent weeks Centrelink has been deluged with thousands of angry and frightened social security recipients who received letters informing them they need to repay, in some cases, thousands dollars in alleged overpayments.

This, according to Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, is all about “strengthening the integrity of the welfare system by cracking down on fraud and overpayments”.

That premise is something no reasonable Australian would disagree with. Quite simply, anyone caught rorting the system should be forced to repay money owing, and possibly face additional penalties depending on the scale of any deliberate fraud.

The problem is that there is mounting evidence that thousands of innocent Australians are being informed they are liable for debts that don’t exist due to issues with Centrelink’s now automated compliance system. One key issue relates to a data matching system Centrelink is now using to marry its information with that held by the Australian Taxation Office and other agencies.

In some cases this system is incorrectly concluding a person was working two jobs when they had only declared one, perhaps due to a minor paperwork discrepancy. In others, where a person may have been unemployed for a period and receiving Newstart, the system is then averaging wages earned over the remainder of the year over the whole 12 months – including the period when no or little work was undertaken.

The compliance exercise is sending out tens of thousands of letters a month, and according to Human Services general manager Hank Jongen, has so far found $300 million in overpayments.

While the majority of these assessments may ultimately prove correct, there is still an alarming number of cases where the system appears to have failed completely. For people caught in this position, the situation is made worse by the onus of proof being reversed in terms of demonstrating that they don’t have a liability, as opposed to Centrelink proving that they do.

Clients are also reporting chronic problems with Centrelink’s website and difficulty accessing staff by telephone, all of which can add up to considerable stress and anxiety for people who, in many cases, may be guilty of nothing more than a clerical error or a victim of a Centrelink software oversight.

The whole mess is reminiscent of Queensland Health’s automated payroll debacle a few years ago, a shemozzle that ended up costing about $1.2 billion to fix.

While the affair has been referred to the Commonwealth Ombudsman for investigation, this process will take time.

In the interim the Government needs to actually admit there are real problems with the new system, and suspend it until it can guarantee what are serious flaws have been rectified.

AUWU Announces Centrelink Debt Officer

Are you having trouble with a Centrelink debt?

With Centrelink sending out 20,000 debt notices per week – some completely erroneously – it is important to get information about your rights before you respond to Centrelink.

The AUWU is now offering the services of our specialised Centrelink Debt Officer, who will be happy to give you advice, via email, about how to respond to your debt letter.

Please send the details of your debt to and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Advice is open to members only. Membership is free and open to everyone. (Click the “Get Involved” button to become a member of the AUWU.)

Please remember, this is not legal advice and you should use your own discretion when deciding what to do about your debt.

Read more about how to fight back, and online campaigns here.

If you require legal advice, please contact your local welfare rights centre.

AUWU Blog – We want facts not fabrication, Mr Turnbull

by Valerie Farfalla, Vice president AUWU

‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’
Aldous Huxley

Yet the Coalition government continues to ignore facts by fabricating stories about hundreds of thousands of dole bludgers skipping job interviews and failing to accept jobs. But where is the evidence? Facts are that in 2015, only 589 unemployed workers were financially penalised for refusing work. The tabloid press laps up the lies about ‘welfare cheats’ who are ‘rorting the system’and ‘becoming fat and lazy on the public purse’ – on $250 a week. This type of demonisation of unemployed workers has appeared in Australian tabloid newspapers around Christmas time for the past few years. Why? A slow news day? Or Government propaganda? To quote Huxley again: ‘The propagandists’ purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human’.

According to a recent article in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail, ‘every week, some 20,000 ‘compliance interventions’ are coming to light, a startling increase from 20,000 a year before the introduction of the new automated Centrelink debt collection system which links personal data to Australian Taxation Office data. The Government hopes to recoup $4 billion from the debt recovery program.

So let’s get this straight with some factual information.

Centrelink’s automated system is in gross disrepair, generating debt notices in error. Over Christmas the AUWU heard of dozens of complaints from welfare recipients sent debt notices from six years ago and asked to produce payslips to contest ‘online’ the alleged debt, which in one case was more than $10,000. Centrelink has no evidence or written record of the alleged debts but its Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transportation (WPIT) system has delivered a large batch of incorrect data matches with the ATO and the recipients are apparently guilty until proven innocent.
Some outraged politicians and welfare groups have called on Centrelink to suspend the compliance system.

I was in a Centrelink office this morning but there were few staff to attend the queues. ‘Sorry, just drop in your papers. There’s no Medicare officer or Financial officer today. We’re going on strike for two days starting tomorrow,’ we were told.

After Christmas, many families have lean pickings. Let’s hope they have enough food and rent money to last into January 2017.


Successful One-Man Sarina Russo Protest

Centrelink recently informed AUWU supporter Chad Delandre that Sarina Russo are legally obliged to hand over his file documents. The Sarina Russo manager, Peter, refused to hand over the documents.

Chad then conducted a 5 minutes protest by himself out the front of Sarina Russo asking for documents. Within a few minutes of the police arriving, Sarina Russo handed over all the documents.

Below is the video Chad took of his protest. Chad’s comments are below.


So i was informed by Centrelink during a appointment today they needed a copy of my participation record from my Job Access provider Sarina Russo Job Access Hervey Bay as it needed to be submitted with my new claim.

My provider just happens to be across the road from local Centrelink office so was no hassle.

Once inside Sarina Russo building was informed could not get my participation record due to know 1 could print out.
I instantly walk to front desk and ask for manager. A man named Peter is Manager at Sarina Russo Job Access Hervey Bay. He also refuzed to give me documentation unless he could read my DSP claim, i refused.

I pleaded my case stating if not submitted to Centrelink by end of day my payments would be cut. Peter stated not he’s issue and unless i was willing to share my private and confidential information on my claim he would not help. I proceeded to inform him i would be back shortly and i was megaphone in hand.

Back round on myself. 29 currently at age of 13 inverted left foot and broke ancle, 19 broke back 2 failed ops a 3rd to fix and at 29 riped knee caps off in motocycle accident. Befor my last accident last yr i was struggling to maintain employment for more than 2 months as nerve damage would get aggravated to point i can not walk. Now as iam getting older and after last accident i struggle to stand/sit/lay for more than a hr if not 10mins but expected to do at least 15hrs work a week. After 10yrs of medical certs and doctor letters to confirm conditions still not unuff proof for DSP????

Why do’s the system ment to help us just destroy us???

I was really suprised my documentation was produced after only 10mins of Police being on scene.

By fighting for his rights, Chad forced his job agency to do what they are legally obliged to do by law. If every unemployed worker followed in Chad’s footsteps, the punitive and dysfunctional employment services industry would have to be cleaned up and investigated.

We can all learn a lot from Chad.

Its Time To Fight Back!


Shorten backs push for low dole


Minister for Employment & Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. Picture: Aaron Francis

  • TheAustralian


EMPLOYMENT Minister Bill Shorten has backed a controversial argument being put by his senior mandarins that the dole should be kept low to encourage the unemployed to take badly paid jobs.

A submission from four federal departments to a Senate inquiry into the Newstart Allowance says the OECD acknowledges that a rise in the base rate from $245 a week “has the distinct disadvantage of reducing employment incentives, especially for those who can only obtain low-paying employment”.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten said: “The submission is obviously the government’s position” despite it previously saying it had a more open mind. “I’d also point you to what the minister had to say about this to you on Sky Agenda at the end of last month.”

In the interview, Mr Shorten said he wanted to look at what could be done to break intergenerational cycles of long-term unemployment. “Intergenerational unemployment is a disaster for generations of people.

“But by the same token, I am fully aware that trying to get along on $249 a week is an incredibly difficult ask.”

Mr Shorten is coming under pressure from the union movement to overhaul the welfare system. The ACTU will today declare major reform of the income support system is vital to help unemployed people find decent, secure work. ACTU president Ged Kearney said reform must start with a $50-a-week rise to Newstart, which had not increased in real terms since the early 1990s and was barely enough to live on, let alone pay for the costs of finding a decent job. “The rate . . . is just 18 per cent of average wages . . . and is widely regarded as a major cause of entrenching people in long-term poverty, with insecure work playing a large role,” she said.

The ACTU wants Newstart raised to the level at which the payment starts to be withdrawn when people begin work, and a wider independent inquiry into the effects of insecure work on welfare.

Unions NSW has called for the Youth Allowance to be increased by $50 a week and indexed in line with pension payments. It wants the income threshold to be increased by $25 a week, allowing Youth Allowance recipients to earn $450 a fortnight before their payments are reduced. The government submission claims an increase to the dole would not assist in maintaining the “fundamental character of Newstart Allowance as a payment that predominantly supports work re-engagement”.

“Work incentives are built into the design of Newstart Allowance and a substantial increase in Newstart payment rates would reduce the incentive for some recipients to move off payment and into self-supporting work”.

The Senate inquiry follows lobbying by business and welfare to increase Newstart, as single mothers face losing an average $50 a week after being shifted from the parenting payment to the dole from January.

The joint submission — from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of Families, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Industry — seeks to blunt support for a $50-a-week rise to the dole.

Peter Whiteford of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University argues that since 1996 payments for the single unemployed have fallen from 23.5 per cent of the average wage for males to 19.5 per cent.

Fight 4 Facts!

It is one of the worst kept secrets in Australia that the Australian Bureau Statistics (ABS) produces misleading unemployment statistics.

Even the former head of the ABS Bill McLennan has stated that ABS employment data “is not worth the paper they are written on”. Glenn Stevens, while Governor of the Reserve Bank, had similar concerns about the quality of unemployment data.

According to the ABS, Australians who work more than one hour are considered to be employed. This has allowed the Government to hide the true nature of of Australia’s growing employment crisis.

If you are sick of the Government lies around employment data, then join the AUWU’s Fight 4 Facts campaign.

To be a part of this campaign, next time you get a letter from an employer or representative stating that your application for the job has been unsuccessful, ask them how many other applicants for that job there were.

Forward that email onto and we will collate that data and release it every time the ABS releases its shoddy employment figures.

Below is an example of an AUWU member participating in our fight for facts campaign.


Working for a Job agency – A First Hand Account

Where do I start?

A lot happened in 10 years.

I have a history of working in an industry that requires compassion as one of the essential requirements and so bring to my work a perspective based on that compassion.

Years ago in the first round of job network, I found myself unemployed and referred to a Job Network Member (JNM). A young lass 10 years my junior was assigned to me, who felt more than comfortable telling me what to do and how to do it despite my having more experience at job seeking. This experience was insulting, humiliating and embarrassing to the point where I thought I can do better than this…. much, much better. Please keep in mind that despite doing little else than commanding me to be compliant, the JNM expected me to inform them of when I gained employment so that they could receive their payment from the government…. for what? I certainly did not have any individualised or practical help that led directly to my job, my contract was not negotiated, and I was threatened with penalties.

Getting a job I did all on my own in spite of the JNM, certainly not as a result of their presence in my life. All I got from my JNM was what I call “the Attitude”, where every single client was frowned upon and treated like a second class citizen. We were talked down to, patronised, given platitudes and offers of help that never came, we weren’t treated as individuals, I rather felt like cattle being walked through to the slaughter house.

So, after a long, arduous and emotionally painful slog, I managed to gain a short contract as a case manager, where the JNM has one year to work with a client in helping them to secure employment. I was also studying to get my Workplace trainer and assessor – now TAE – at the same time. The contract was not renewed and I was very happy that it wasn’t. The people at the JNM were just as judgemental and critical of their client base as was the JNM I attended. I was constantly being remonstrated for trying to help everyone on my caseload and redirected to breaking up my caseload into 3 categories:

1. Those who would get a job without my help

2. Those who would get a job with my help and

3. The “unemployable”

I was instructed to:

Ignore group 1 and just keep tabs on them in order to make a claim,

Assist group 2 and keep tabs on them in order to make a claim, and

To ignore group 3 all together.

This assessment was all based on a 1 hour interview! Needless to say, I was shocked by the arrogance of it all and the rest.

I then found employment with another JNM as a Job Search Trainer (JST), where the JNM has only 3 weeks in which to assist clients to secure employment. The site was in the red and failing, my first group consisted of 2 people not the required 15. I received half a day of on the job training and then left to my own devices and very little to work with, just a proforma manual that was issued to the clients and no other resources whatsoever! The clients were sitting in the main area reading the daily newspapers and failing to look for work. The site was dead and dull with no energy or atmosphere. If anything, it was dark, depressing and heavy with despair. The JST was expected to run a full day on Fridays and sign up 15 individuals in-between all that; hardly conducive to providing a quality service to ones clients. So, I embarked on an overhaul introducing things like group sign ups, where the introduction to the service, explaining the contract and the expectations of the clients and the JNM were introduced over a 1 hour period to the whole group that included question time and then the opportunity to actually sit and discuss the contract at private and individualised sessions thereafter. I also offered my clients the option of signing the contract on the spot if they felt comfortable doing so as I felt that this too was being mindful of respecting their time and individual desires/needs. Prior to the Friday morning, I would call each client individually reminding them of their appointment with me (this was not being done). I did this not only to increase attendance but to minimise breaching which was mandatory on failure to attend. If my clients couldn’t make it I would explain to them that they had already signed a contract with Centrelink agreeing to participate and that they ran the risk of a breach. I would then instruct them on how to provide me with evidence for their file and re-arrange another appointment: rather than what was previously happening which was instant breaches for non-attendance. I wouldn’t just stress what was required of my clients, I would also tell them what was required of me and what formed part of my job description, by giving my clients this information, I was empowering them to avoid any penalties such as a breach of contract. In short, I did everything I legally could to assist them in making informed choices. I did also give them the choice to receive a breach, which surprisingly some of them actually chose, despite my efforts to encourage them to attend and avoid it. I did not limit my classes to JST, I invited our only case manager to refer their clients to my class as well. We had the spare seats available and it made no difference to my how many clients were referred as they would eventually go back to the case manager for follow up with the actual job search. I also invited my colleague who did job matching to do the same, basically any client who accessed the site was welcome.

Another change I introduced was stripping the newspapers of any content other than job adverts and the rest of the newspaper went to a local vet for pet litter. This needed to happen in order to stop clients from being distracted by the daily news, the lack of job seeking activity was adding to the depression associated with failing to find employment. Instead, I made myself present in the main room, sat at the same table with them and physically helped them with their job search. I rewrote many of the subjects so that they were easily digestible and to reproduce and assessed each client on competency, ensuring that they were walking away with a skill for the future, rather than someone writing their resume for them. I used workshopping not lecture style training and did a needs analysis before every single topic and modified training to each group each week (easy enough to do if you know your material). In doing this the clients wrote their own material (resumes, application letters etc.) and had much of the say in how they represented themselves to employers, they weren’t taught things they already knew. I was simply there to edit and advise. If I had a particularly diverse group, I would ask permission of the more advanced clients if I could buddy them up with those who needed a little more guidance. I introduced having access to tea and coffee just like many employees have at work and also introduced the 3 job limit. Centrelink contracts then stated that if a client was able to perform a job recommended for them, regardless of what it was, then they were obliged to attend an interview or face a breach. An extreme example would be someone with a doctorate being forced to attend an interview to sort recycling. One does not need to be an Einstein to see how that would end. So, I introduced a goal setting topic that encouraged my clients to choose either 3 diverse jobs in the same industry or the same job in 3 different industries. By returning the choice of employment back to them, I was returning power back to them, thereby increasing their motivation and hope for securing gainful employment. By providing a limit, their energies were not spread too thin, yet they could still play the numbers game to increase their chances of success.

Remember, I had none of this when I was a client myself, but I wish I had.

By the time I had settled into this second job, the main room was buzzing with energy and activity, we were achieving and often exceeding our 15 client target and we were getting outcomes that met the employers KPI’s and that were also directly in line with the desires of the individual client, thus resulting in job retention. There was laughter and camaraderie, there was support and activity, there was self paced and self motivated and above there was hope.

In all my time with this second company, only 2 clients wound up returning and they specifically said they wanted me personally to assist them. Every so often a group of clients would “reward” me for my efforts. One group even held a ceremony and gave me a certificate of achievement, which I still have and hold dear. We were a small team at this site and so it wasn’t too hard to influence my colleagues in treating the clients with dignity and respect. The outcomes we achieved as from something so simple as compassion, resulted in my bringing the site back into the black, we survived that tender round and were set to move on to the next round. My managers, however, could not see eye to eye with me. This too was a short lived contract of only one year. I did visit some time later, I can’t remember what for, and the site was back to the dark, depressing den of despair. That site closed down on the next tender round after mine, for failing to achieve the minimum 3 stars.

There was a third company but that job placement did not last long. Again management disagreed with how I perceived my clients, sadly I cannot repeat what I saw going on at that site as these activities would be best described as illegal and wroughting the system. I didn’t last long as I couldn’t be a part of that.

Then I went to Centrelink, 40 jobs were vacant and 3,500 people applied; I was one of the successful candidates. The staff were good to me and did not want me to leave, they even encouraged me to transfer to a more suitable department, but you cannot be compassionate and work at Centrelink and survive.

I DO believe that the majority of folk on unemployment benefits would rather be working; one must remember that I have, more than once, been one of those folk myself. Yet, working at Centrelink, I also did have dishonest customers who either did not need benefits and had worked out legal loopholes, or those who were simply working in the black and receiving benefits as well, with their employers as willing accomplices. This too was a one year stint, I found that in order to protect myself emotionally, I was becoming dispassionate and, yes, this was as a direct result of the dishonest clients. They were very good at fooling a bleeding heart like me. It was only after the mandatory financial investigations, that were a direct result of working in an office in an affluent part of town, that we discovered hidden or redistributed funds or people working in the black.  …and here I was thinking that these poor people were as desperate as they claimed to be. Of course I had genuine people who were needy present to me; but what I found astonishing was how many folk really were trying to manipulate the system. I mean really. Being a compassionate person I was able to develop trust. I had people volunteering what “naughty” things they were doing. I had to leave, I couldn’t cover for them, I personally would have been held legally liable if I did, yet how can one be compassionate to a customer who has millions when the next customer has zero? So, one becomes cold, hard and distant. Yet, I stress that this is a survival mechanism, staff at Centrelink don’t start out the way they end up.

You may have noticed a thread happening here. I just could not find a place in the Job Network, now Job Active system that lent itself to a compassionate individual who treated their clients with the dignity and respect that one would want for themselves. My approach was either not tolerated or abused. To say that I was starting to lose heart is an understatement. Yet, my own past personal experience was so intense that it spurred me on to continue.

My final destination before returning to – we’ll call it my compassionate work – was a very large JNM; I was with them for many years. Again, the site I started at had nothing, not even a client manual. I had to draw on my past experience and create a whole new department single handedly with no training. I did have support insofar as my first line manager was an understanding individual who had an open door policy, but other than that for the first year I was on my own. This was where I felt “the attitude” again, from the staff.

Now this is most probably something I should not say out loud, more so for the distress that it will cause, but… all I ever heard in the lunch room was staff disparaging their clients. Never once in all my years working in JN did I hear a positive thing said about a client. I was constantly astonished at how well staff had mastered the ability to find fault even when a person presented well. I would often speak up in defence of the clients. Sadly, this did not lead to any changes in attitude, rather, I was shunned, spurred, no longer tolerated and often the source of their bitching and gossiping. Luckily, we were in a large enough premises that I could effectively operate in isolation… and I did, for many years. Such was my belief that one can achieve better than expected results simply by being humane, that I stuck it out to prove a point. Not only had my own personal experience left an indelible memory, but it was the principle as well. The irony is that I was most likely the only staff member actually practising the code of conduct and respecting the clients rights.

Job Network then – I can’t speak for Job Active now – was a high turn over industry, I am guessing from the pressure placed upon its members to achieve targets. I can’t say that I ever felt that pressure, as I truly believe I had stumbled upon the recipe to success. All and any new staff were trained by me and lesson one was dignity and respect! Lesson two was walk a mile in their shoes. Every staff member I ever trained was asked have you ever sat in that chair? When they answered no, I informed them that I had and that my experience was so bad that I intended to do better. This usually worked at getting their attention. Sadly, you can’t fight the herd mentality. Once those individuals left my tutelage to progress with the company, I found that they folded and yielded to the toxic culture of disparagement. The pressure to conform, to fit in, to avoid being treated the way that I was is so intense that even those who know better or those with the best of intentions yield. Eventually, I gave up and returned to my previous career.

I did once again find myself unemployed, sadly we cannot predict how the wheel of fortune turns, and where once there was prosperity, all of a sudden there can be abject poverty. Again I was at the mercy of a JNM. When the manager looked at my resume, they remarked in astonishment that I could teach them a thing or two. Sadly, this individual did not tweak that it was only by the grace of God that they too did not find themselves in my shoes. I was forced, yes, with the threat of a breach to study Job searching techniques in hard copy and provide evidence that I had done so. I called the authorities to complain, they agreed with my complaint and yet failed to achieve a meaningful outcome for me. I received, no assistance whatsoever, and yet was constantly made to comply with time wasting activities that directly impacted negatively on my job search. What is it they say? The more things change the more they stay the same? Anyway, once again, via my own efforts and with no thanks to a JNM who couldn’t even achieve something as basic as getting a confirmation; I found my own employment single handedly.

The population on benefits is so diverse, that it is hard to tell the needy from the greedy, the honest from the dishonest, those able to represent themselves well and those unable to. Assets tests can be manipulated or a horrible mistake made. Working an illegal job without paying tax is made easy when employers are willing accomplices and yet under employment is on the rise as a result of bona fide employers restructuring to meet the needs of a changing job market. Being forced by  JNM’s to jump through hoops that one has been teaching for 10 years regardless of staff stating in astonishment, “you probably know more than me” so that they can meet their legal requirements whilst at the same time failing to provide meaningful assistance all speaks to a flawed and complicated system.

So… it isn’t perfect, it can be a nightmare to navigate through, it can be emotionally damaging and it can wreak financial hardship rather than assuaging it; but from one who has been on every single side of the system, I can say this.

I am so very grateful we at least have one.