Today is the worst time in Australian post-war history to be unemployed. The AUWU have identified three major attacks currently being directed against unemployed workers.
Firstly there is the low rate of Newstart, which is currently $381.10 per fortnight below the poverty line for a single unemployed worker, assuming they are receiving maximum rent assistance. The last time Newstart was increased in real terms was in 1994.
Secondly, there is Australia’s ongoing unemployment crisis. Going by the most recent figures released by the ABS and the Department of Employment, there are 11.25 job seekers competing for each job vacancy. This ratio is at a record high and has led to the average duration of unemployment being in excess of three and a half years –an increase of more than 300% since 1995.
Finally, there is the increasingly punitive array of activities and appointments that are being imposed on unemployed workers by a privatised and largely unregulated Employment Services Industry.
This crisis is an uncomfortable reality for Australian politicians who are at the very least complicit in the shameful manner in which unemployed workers are being treated.
Rather than implementing the job creation programs that are so urgently needed to help the 1.8 million Australians looking for work, these chambers have instead continued to attack and vilify the unemployed creating generations of disadvantage.
I have brought with me today a collection of experiences from 14 unemployed workers and one former Max Employment consultant to clearly illustrate this point. I encourage all Senators present to read it.
The bill before us today represents one of the worst attacks ever launched on the unemployed in this country.
By giving the privately run Employment Service Industry sweeping new powers to impose immediate financial penalties on unemployed workers, this bill will only serve to deepen their disadvantage – ultimately pushing them further away from employment. On this basis, the AUWU recommends that the bill be rejected in its entirety.
As the Labor party have recently indicated that they will oppose 3 of the 5 proposals in this bill, today I will focus my attentions on the other 2 apparently more popular proposals – namely the proposal to subject all unemployed workers to an immediate No Show No Pay penalty if they miss an activity, and the proposal to give Employment Service Providers expanded powers to penalise unemployed workers who fail to provide adequate proof of their job searches.
There are four major issues the Australian Unemployed Workers Union would like to raise about expanding the No Show No Pay penalty to all activities.
Firstly, the immediate No Show No Pay penalty eliminates the small window unemployed workers currently have to appeal against an unfair decision before their payment is reduced. It is worth noting that there is little protection in the act against Providers implementing this penalty arbitrarily and unfairly. These issues apply to all No Show No Pay penalties proposed in the bill.
Secondly, the proposal will lead to more cases of unemployed workers being bullied and intimidated by their Employment Service Provider. This concern is made all the more pressing considering the perverse incentives given to Employment Service Providers to penalise unemployed workers.
Thirdly, if the current average penalty duration of 2.8 days continues, this proposal will result in sanctioned unemployed workers being docked at least 20% of their already insufficient Newstart entitlement. It must be recognised that docking an unemployed workers’ entitlement – even for one day – can result in considerable impoverishment & anxiety, which can lead to a cycle of mental illness, isolation and further penalties, which will inevitably drive unemployed workers away from employment – the opposite of what this bill intends.
Finally, the Australian Unemployed Workers Union is deeply concerned that the time taken to ‘reengage’ with an activity could be even longer given the sporadic and unreliable nature of some activities.
Moving along to the proposal regarding job search penalties, I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to four areas of concern.
Firstly, unemployed workers in regional areas will be disproportionally affected by this proposal.
Secondly, the proposal will lead to job search becoming a box-ticking exercise for many unemployed and prevent them concentrating their efforts on realistic jobs.
Thirdly, there is no evidence to suggest this proposal is necessary. According to the department, since 2013 only 22 unemployed workers were investigated by DHS for poor job search. Out of these cases, DHS found no evidence of improper conduct and did not implement one single penalty.
And finally, as there is no explicit guidance in the Act of how this penalty will be implemented, there are no protections against Employment Service Providers applying this measure arbitrarily and unfairly.
I look forward to addressing any questions the Committee may have.
Henderson Poverty line, Melbourne institute release for June Quarter ($1035.1 per fortnight for a single with housing costs)
Maximum amount of Newstart including rent assistance: $654
ABS Labour Force September (released 15 October)
Job Vacancies (released in September)
Long Term unemployment stats: 2012 statistic qtd. in Disabled, Work and Welfare: Doing the ‘Hard Yakka’: implications of Australia’s workfare policies for disabled people. Alan Morris, Shaun Wilson and Karen Soldatic