22 August 2016, Anonymous AUWU member
I wanted to share my job seeker story to warn people about the provider At Work Australia and one of their consultants (in Perth, WA). When I started receiving Newstart Allowance I picked a job provider at random as I wasn’t sure who to go with. Centrelink told me it was my choice so I randomly chose At Work Australia from a list. I never felt comfortable attending appointments at their office. The night before and day of each appointment I suffered from anxiety. But I needed the extra money from Newstart as I was studying and working part time. My initial appointment went ok; I was assigned a consultant who gave me the impression I wasn’t a priority as I was receiving a reduced rate of Newstart due to my job and online studies. My next appointment was 3-4 months down the track, which I was happy with.
3-4 months later I still hadn’t found full time work and I went to my job provider’s office for an appointment. Because the person I saw initially was away At Work told me I had to see Catherine Kamau, who would later become my regular job consultant. I immediately felt uneasy dealing with her. She had a bad attitude, didn’t seem to care and said it was unacceptable I hadn’t come in for more regular appointments (although I didn’t see issue with this and it wasn’t my fault to begin with). When I saw her she would ask me brief questions, type my information into her computer and then ignore me for the remainder of the appointment. She also made me come in fortnightly to monthly.
On one occasion I came in for an appointment after dyeing my hair and she said “I like your hair that colour” in a condescending tone, as if to question how I got the money for my hair (like its any of her business to begin with!). At the 6th month mark I got a letter saying I had to come in to sort out my work for the dole requirements. I was then given another appointment scheduled for less than a week later. When I rang and asked why I had to come in for two appointments within the space of two weeks I was rudely told Catherine was not trained in work for the dole and I had to see a different consultant (which was incorrect). When I explained I could not do work for the dole because of my work and study commitments I was told it was compulsory as they assessed me as being suitable for it.
When I went in for my work the dole appointment I saw Catherine, my regular consultant (contradictory to what I was told on the phone). I had contacted the union before my appointment and asked if it was legal that I had to come in for an additional appointment the following week and they told me it was unnecessary. I brought evidence from the union’s website with me to the appointment. Catherine ended up cancelling my appointment the following week and didn’t give me work for the dole as long as I provided her with my payslips and study details on a monthly basis. I found this an invasion of privacy and contacted the union again.
I was told you do not have to provide this information so I contacted Catherine and told her I wasn’t going to give it to her unless she provided me with evidence as per the mutual obligation requirements that I had to. I also explained I did not have to do work for the dole as I was receiving a reduced rate of Newstart and had other commitments. She saw red and said she would add this refusal to my records. She also said I did not understand the concept of work for the dole (which was wrong as I had checked the union’s website and spoke to a delegate). She said I should come into the office so she could explain it face to face. She then threatened to cut my payments off if I did not provide my payslips and study details. I then sent her evidence from the union’s website and mutual obligation requirements that I did not have to do work for the dole or provide those details. I finished by saying she was the one who did not understand the legality of work for the dole. I said I knew my rights and if she did not respect them I would report her and her agency. She responded by saying I was being threatening (even though she was to begin with) and said I should carry out the reporting process. In addition, Catherine threatened to get her manager involved and said she would not correspond with me further on this matter unless I came into the office.
After being concerned she would somehow cut my payments off I said her manager should contact me and that I would not provide my payslips but I was willing to give her my study details. Not long after I received a letter saying I had to come in for a monthly appointment. Eventually I decided receiving a small amount of Newstart was not worth all of the stress so I stopped claiming it. I also did not want to see Catherine again after this mess because I knew she would be aggressive at the appointment. Overall this experience was pretty horrible, especially for someone who suffers from a mental illness and low self esteem. I was appalled at how I was treated by Catherine and questioned whether or not she was actually qualified to work as a consultant. My advice to anyone in Perth, WA is stay away from At Work Australia. They enjoy treating people badly and are just there to make a profit off the unemployed.