“Why are the poor and unemployed are being treated like this?” – Navigating the job agencies

I am 58 years old now and I lost my full time job on the first of June, 2011. I was working for Borders when they went under. I ran the music and movie department and I was very happy there. I went to Centrelink and registered as unemployed. I was case managed by Mission Australia, who never referred me to a single job and only seemed to be there to torment me into a job. I did the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) at the Adelaide College of TAFE. Mission Australia initially told me that they’d help pay the $3,500 for the course, then two weeks later, after I’d paid for the course with my own money, they told me that they would not help me pay for the course. While I was doing my TESOL course I was notified by Mission Australia that I would have to attend a three week course on the subject of preparing for and going to job interviews, this was when I was halfway through my TAFE course. I politely but firmly told them that I would be unable to attend their course because I was already studying four days per week for the next few months. They rescheduled the course until after I’d finished with TAFE.  I subsequently did the three week course and was no wiser at the end of it. I have been both an employee and a business own in my life and I could have run through the course offered to me in a single day, if I was asked to do so. The course interfered with my life, was time consuming and offered nothing of value.  Eventually, I asked to be moved to a different job agency. I found Mission Australia made no effort to help me at all and only existed to make money from the government for bothering and threatening the unemployed.

In 2014 I was moved to PVS Jobfind in Kilkenny, Adelaide. It was right next door to Mission Australia. The place was a little different. For starters everyone who worked at Mission Australia seemed to be a woman under the age of 25. I was seen by a man at PVS, admittedly a rather young man who seemed reasonably sympathetic. I went to PVS once per month and let them know about my physical and mental declines (I have chronic cellulitis in my right leg, clinical depression, I am subject to panic and anxiety attacks and I have a host of other symptoms).

Then on the 23rd of February, 2015, a bomb went off. A very big bomb indeed. The ABC television program, 4 Corners, did an exposé on job agency industry entitled “The Jobs Game”. I invite you to watch it here, if you haven’t already seen it: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/02/23/4183437.htm

Shortly after this program aired, both Mission Australia and PVS as well as another job agency vanished from their offices at Kilkenny in Adelaide and presumably from elsewhere as well.

So, for six months I was in limbo, which didn’t bother me in the slightest. I was very ill and getting worse and I have many things that were concerning me and looking for jobs was a low priority. Then, out of the blue, I found myself referred to a place with the grand name of Jobs Statewide. This place seemed a little more gung-ho than the two previous places I had been to, but it still seemed to be staffed by ex-checkout chicks and night-fill lads from a suburban supermarket. I was told that I would have to come in twice each month, and even though this is 2.1 kilometres from my home, there are no convenient bus or train routes and to get their I either had to shell out for a taxi or catch a train into the city and then walk some distance for a bus to the Arndale shopping centre, where Jobs Statewide is located. I implored them to do my interviews by phone, because of my declining health and there answer was a firm “no can do.”    My doctor gave me an three month exemption from looking for work, which helped me get my life in order a little.

By mid 2016 my health, both mental and physical was in sharp decline. Over the last four years I have attempted suicide five times. My ex-wife left me for another man in 2010 and this was just the beginning of my decline. I had a series of medical tests performed on me and it was discovered that in addition of depression and cellulitis, I have diverticulitis, very low testosterone levels, I am losing red blood cells at a prodigious rate, I have severe anemia and will require regular infusions of blood, I have a thyroid condition, fatty liver, an inflamed oesophagus, my blood sugar levels are out of whack and, to top it all off, I have glaucoma and I have already lost 30% of my vision in my left eye. My GP, who is a very kind and understanding man, has suggested to me that I go on disability until my health improves or if it improves, which is doubtful.

So, in October of this year (2016), after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, the head office of Jobs Statewide admitted that I would probably be better served to a job agency that catered for my needs and Status Employment was offered to me. It is located in Dale Street of Port Adelaide and I can get there by train. I live directly across from the West Croydon railway station. However, the offices of Status Employment are, for me, a considerable walk and getting there from the railway station is very painful for me.

So, two Fridays ago, I set off for my 13:30 appointment with Status Employment. I got there fifteen minutes early, hoping to get the interview over and done with as quickly as possible. However, I was informed that the person who was to interview me was at lunch. She finally saw me forty minutes later. I was again confronted by a girl who I estimate wasn’t even as old as my oldest son, Chris, who recently turned twenty four. I was proudly told that Status doesn’t have a “get ’em in, get ’em out” attitude and they prefer to spend time with their victims…… ahem! … I mean “clients”! I was duly told what are my obligations and what I must do (I was alarmed at how often the word “must” came up in the conversation vis-à-vis my side of the deal with this organisation).
About twenty minutes into the conversation I asked this: “I am an honest Australian citizen in my late fifties. I have paid my taxes all my life and I been both an employer and employee. So what exactly are my human rights here, as an Australian citizen?”
She seemed confused and I repeated my question, “What are my rights here?”
She answered that we will get to those towards the end of the interview.
We got toward the end of the interview and I was told a number of things, including:

1. I must attend an interview with Status Employment every two weeks.
2. I must choose an activity which including weekly attendance at a “job club” or a “work for the dole scheme” or do “fifteen hours of volunteer work per week” or do a Centrelink approved further education course.
3. I must sign a job plan then and there on the spot.

After two unproductive hours (in my humble opinion) I was ready to sign this accursed “job plan” just so that I could get home and rest. I again asked about my human rights and this made the young lady fidget with her pen even more. However, she could not answer my question. Or maybe she would not? Who knows!?
I apologised to the young woman who interviewed me and said that it must be very tiresome to have to interview a cranky old so-and-so like me on a Friday afternoon when she is probably thinking about what she’s going to be doing on the weekend.  She told me that I was actually unusually polite and that I wasn’t a problem at all. She also told me that there are jobs out there for anyone who wants them. I had to suppress a snigger at that.
However, I did tell her that I felt like a newly released convict who was being interviewed by a probation officer to make sure I hadn’t been naughty in the past week instead of a dignified late middle aged Australian citizen who has lead a productive and law abiding life.

So, it has come to this. Poor and unemployed Australians are to be “motivated” by threatening to take money away from us and wealthy Australians are to be motivated by giving them more money?

Yesterday, the 17th of November, I was required to see the same woman I saw a fortnight ago at Status Employment. In the interim I had posted on Status Employment’s Facebook page that they should make it clear to their clients precisely what their rights are because I wasn’t told when I saw them. Strangely, they approved the post and when I last checked, it was still there.

So yesterday I was told that I must choose an activity and that it is binding upon me to undertake an activity in order to receive my unemployment benefits, which were hard won by the Australian union movement in the 1940s.

Sir Robert Menzies in 1944: “People should be able to obtain these benefits as a matter of right, with no more loss of their own standards of self-respect than would be involved in collecting from an insurance company the proceeds of an endowment policy on which they have been paying premiums for years.”

Unemployment benefits are not a privilege or a luxury, they are a basic human right in Australia. Never let anyone convince you otherwise.

Back to Status Employment. Because I can’t do much and I am waiting for further medical tests, I chose to do a “Job club” once each week. These things are essentially pointless and a waste of time, especially for someone like me who is not really able to work.

I told the woman who interviewed me again that I am not at all happy about the way I am being treated and she just said that she doesn’t make the rules, she only follows them (and enforces them, which she didn’t say)
“Ah!”, I said, “The Nuremberg Defence! – we were just following orders!”
Needless to say, this remark was lost on her.

I left Status Employment wondering what sort of country I had woken up in and why the poor and unemployed are being treated like this? People are rightfully indignant about the way Australia shoves refugees onto islands in the Pacific, but what of the many thousands of Australian citizens who are being punished, threatened, inconvenienced, humiliated and simply having their lives ruined by harsh government policies?
I have contacted Mr. Mark Butler and had a very good conversation with his staff about these issues. I also contacted the office of Mr. Bill Shorten, the leader of the federal opposition and had a very productive conversation about my situation and the situation of thousands of my compatriots. And finally I had two very productive conversations with the good folks at the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, who actually took the time to inform me of what my rights actually are, as opposed to the woman who interviewed me at Status Employment, Port Adelaide, where she either didn’t know what are my rights or deliberately concealed them or simply tried to bamboozle me with paperwork and threats.

On the sound advice of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, I have emailed Status Employment to get my Job Plan renegotiated in the light of my new knowledge of my rights. So far, I haven’t heard from them.

If any of you wish to contact me, my email address is smguy@optusnet.com.au and my mobile number is 0413354470. I am available around the clock.

Goodbye and good luck.