Several years ago after experiencing and being witness to an employer who conducted and cultivated the worst in workplace bullying, discrimination and a wilful disregard to an employee/employer agreement I commenced a rightful and just claim for worker’s compensation along with associated action through the Office of the Anti-Discrimination and the Fair Work Ombudsman. The union at the time who represented me was in the early period was supportive but it was soon realised that both the employer and the union had the same legal team…meaning that there was a conflict of interest and during the lengthy time of final settlement I had to seek my own solicitor at my own personal expense. The employer meanwhile whilst this was going on sought extended delays in appearing at both forums claiming “medical problems” which both agencies willingly accepted.
This employer knew the score…delay the case (in collusion with their highly paid legal team) …the employee could not simply resign as the case would crumble however the employee ultimately had little income and had to source basic living expenses from superannuation after threats of foreclosure on the family home. As one can assume Centrelink in any form of assistance was not an option as technically I was still an employee until a “settlement” was reached despite near two years of blank payslips after the worker’s compensation ran out.
After receiving a cash settlement ($7,000) most was swallowed up in legal and medical costs and a “confidentiality clause” was insisted upon, no work references or any noting of my time with this employer could be indicated on my resume. In other words I did not exist.
Under my initial claim I was assigned to a job rehabilitation agency who at the time stated that another position would be made available as returning to the employer in question would be impossible due to retribution. 12 months went by and nothing was forthcoming, it seemed that this agency found it difficult to find me work and the case manager eventually admitted that my time was up.
After applying for Newstart and the $7,000 being taken into account as a settlement lump sum I was assigned to job agency #1. During my initial interview I was told that I had made many mistakes personally and that it would be difficult to gain a new position as “whistleblowers” suffer a form of self sabotage (what an insult) and need to realise that at the end of the day that I was totally responsible for my situation. Ongoing medical treatment was indicated to this agency but I was constantly warned that my failure to attend interviews in their office (not for any actual jobs) but to simply see “how are you going” would result in my benefits being cut and I was reminded that “we are keeping you”. Not one job was referred to me from this agency and after 3 months they suggested I move on.
Now came job agency #2 who claimed in my initial interview that “don’t worry we will get you a job” and similar patronising comments. Little did I know that this agency had a commercial relationship with my past employer and during a meeting a case manager passed on a message of “G’day” from my ex-boss and his deputy. Furious, I asked if I was being discussed outside the agency as to my situation and my assertion that this officer had breached the 1988 Privacy Act. I was reminded that my attitude was not tolerable to them. Again no job offers were evident and into 6 months with this outfit my own list of applications for various job vacancies was nearing 150 in total. Approaching 9 months of being contracted to this agency suddenly I had a position offered to me subject to the completion of required paperwork, ATO forms etc. which on that very day needed to be completed by 5pm cob. With due haste I completed what was necessary (though the position was sub-contracted by another agency who’s name begins with the letter M) and my work would commence the very next day. This was a menial job at a local vineyard, not exactly my type of work but it was a job and a logical way to step back into the workforce and get off Newstart.
The job was indeed for the next day….and only that day. For 4 hours I was removing rubbish and nothing else. After I contacted my assigned case manager I was allocated to another colleague of his and after multiple excuses I was assured that this was a hic-cup and all would be good. Still nothing apart from a stunning situation 3 months later. During this time I had to seek peripheral assistance from a mental health assistance agency (funded by the Department of Human Services) due to ongoing depression and anxiety. They were understanding but I soon realised there was nothing they could do job wise apart from assigning me to volunteer work. The stunning situation I refer to was when I attended yet another interview at this “job provider agency” (what a joke!) my case manger informed me that her contract was finishing up and that she would be out of a job, I sat in stunned silence whilst she asked my if the mental health assistance agency I was contracted to had any positions that may suit her. To say I was disgusted and disillusioned would be an understatement. I walked out without any motion of anger but to simply say that I wasn’t “feeling too well”.
After a month of waiting I finally had another case manager assigned. The first of four required interviews began with a failure for any sign of the officer to show when it was arranged for me to meet her at my local library. This I knew would appear like a potential breach with Centrelink and my payment could be suspended. I sat here for 2 hours waiting until an assistant librarian (not contracted in any way to this agency) informed me that a message had gone astray. At the time I had no mobile or anyway could be directly contacted…I could not afford one. I add that I was now meeting agency personnel at my local library as I had no vehicle to travel to the central office and public transport was (and still is) non existent .
Upon the eventual meeting with this new case manager I was in a state of confusion, anger and near despair however I gelled well with the officer and after chatting for some time about my fractured work history and the trials of my actions I was told of the most startling situation. This particular case manger had the just recently taken similar action (like me) against a previous employer for workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination. The employer was Job Agency #1 and a settlement had just been finalised before the Fair Work Commissioner.
A rather strange camaraderie was felt by me at the time with this case manager who obviously was shellshocked but for me again no job prospects, referral advice or assistance with resume re-construction was forthcoming, however I was in some way buoyed that I was not alone. This case manager however soon resigned and left the state upon which I was passed on to yet another who assured me of his dedication and understanding but the underlining reminder that I “be good” and adhere to Centrelink requirements. This particular person however was part-time as his other job was in the media as a sports presenter. This role was clearly his chosen domain and often I found appointments postponed and phone calls regarding job vacancies and their outcomes either delayed or simply not returned. At last…one position which suited me and my skills (though only for 2 days a week) was posted on the agency’s rather tacky notice board inside the front door. I submitted my covering letter, amended resume and then nothing. I rang the office and was told the officer was unavailable for “family reasons” but turning on my radio he was cheerfully on- air commentating a local sports program. I then rang the office and told them in a direct manner (I was not rude nor used offensive language) and the receptionist laughed at me when I demonstrated my unhappiness and frustration. Calming down I phoned the employer direct who was understanding and appeared interested in my skills and knowledge however he had not received my application as was the normal protocol from this job agency.
With a clear head and calm rationale I eventually made contact with the case manager who stated that the position was filled by someone else from another agency and that he was unhappy with my attitude as he was attending to his sick child during his absence from the office. I then phoned the employer who confirmed the job was still open and that he was still reviewing applications.
The next day the manager of the agency rang me to confirm that my attitude was unacceptable and that I need to move on and I need “a new set of eyes” to take on my case and that as far as they were concerned there was nothing they could do for me. It was hinted during this conversation that my age (ie.55) was now difficult in the job market though their take on this was later made more clear to me. I was also advised not to contact the case manager anymore as I had upset him and he felt threatened by my demeanour.
I then filed a request for “Freedom of Information” on my file from this agency….many weeks passed and finally it surfaced full of inaccuracies and misinformation which I disputed when I filed an official complaint with the Department of Education and Employment. Despite my just grievance this governing department took note of my situation and relevant concerns but confirmed that they had no policing power in relation to the activity of this job provider who receives funding and incentives from the public purse.
By this time after much heartache, stress and frustration inflicted on me by a system that is clearly broken I had no direction. Though looking back it is now is a haze to me and a time I long to forget. Mounting bills, no job, no money, no perceivable way of getting back on track with a meaningful way of life I took the ultimate decision to end my life. There was no other choice as I saw at the time. This dark period culminated in a lengthy hospital stay after the debilitating effects of an overdose and health ramifications and I was transferred from Newstart to a Disability Pension.
Whilst in the psychiatric ward under guard (to prevent self harm) I eventually started chatting to fellow patients. At the time I thought I was alone with my plight but far from it as I met many of my age who had been treated appallingly by various job provider agencies and placed in the “too hard basket” with no empathy or understanding. It was soon obvious that many were victims of a system that was deceitful and based on KPI’s that meant more than assisting one in need. One lady who told me she had been out of work for six years and was suffering the worst in the condition of shingles.
After several months of rehabilitation and loss of my vehicle along with selling many treasured personal possessions to make ends meet my marriage was dissolving. My partner at the time was only able to gain a casual based position where that too was dominated by a business owner who refused to pay due penalty rates and now is under investigation from the Australian Tax Office for not paying superannuation.
Then I moved onto to job agency #3 after my release and during a 7 month period I had 4 different case managers including one in the beginning who suggested I apply for a role of an assistant in the private disability sector. I was quite unsettled being put foward for a job in an area in which as a patient I had just emerged but I was desperate for work and supportive income. I was then told I would be having a medical and police check and I mentioned my concern that I was still on several medications which could impede on my application. I was told that “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” …in others words hide what is crucial information. At the end of the medical examination it was soon detected that I had medication which was deemed unsuitable for an employee to have in one’s system and this job too was withdrawn.
The case manager transferred me to another colleague who after 3 or so interviews formed his opinion that my initial career path was a mistake and that I should learn from this experience. Leading up to my departure from the agency again no job referrals however I did receive assistance with addressing a selection criteria upon which I was reminded that I had shortcomings in writing up..ie. grammar, lacking task examples etc. The only thing was that this case manager worked on a selection criteria for a job that had already closed and obviously had not bothered to even read the job notice properly.
A month later a new case manager who was very vocal in her political view insisting that a new incoming Liberal state government will reinvigorate the job market and good times are about to be experienced. Again no job referrals but just the routine checking on my own growing list of applications and where I sourced them from. It’s here that I was told to consider a “holiday” from the system and come back in a couple of months refreshed and healthier.
When I did return yet another new case manager was frank in his assessment that things are indeed difficult and perhaps I should move on elsewhere. He gave me a fortnight to consider this but he phoned me at home to confirm that I would be “exited” and wish me well. I was still holding the phone in my hand when he finished the call as he could not wait to hang up. Thinking back I’m certain I held the phone for near five minutes in a strange mix of surprise and dismay.
The last job agency #4 who I signed up for in late 2014 was at least honest in saying that they had nothing on their books but with any jobs I personally applied for they could offer a wage subsidy. Of the two jobs in which I gained an interview the agency marketing officer followed up with this offer but informed me that the potential employer should be aware in some way of my health condition. That immediately ensured that my application would not progress any further and future fortnightly interviews were without any substance other than to be told to be positive and create my personal network in the local community.
My final case manager was a young lady who obviously found my situation very difficult to address and her ability to grasp the problems I have encountered way out of her domain however she seemed concerned. As I found that again and again that I was going nowhere I requested to be exited during my last meeting. “That’s easily processed” she stated … “I can do that now on my computer” to which she hit the appropriate keystroke with the remark “done”. All I could say was “yes…I have been”. After a pep talk and insisting that I not get despondent I was at least assured that if I ever passed by the office I could drop in and help myself to the coffee machine.
That’s my story, it’s not glossed up by any means but a true account of which I never thought I would ever experience.