It has been a long road for the AUWU to get a seat at the table with the federal Dept of Jobs to represent unemployed workers. For unemployed workers, this meeting was a watershed which, along with the jobactive and ParentsNext Senate Inquiries, means that our voices are finally being heard.
This joint meeting was convened because AUWU President Owen Bennett had asked for the opportunity to discuss ways to distribute AUWU Rights Guides. This need arose because the AUWU runs a hotline staffed by volunteers who help others navigate and negotiate employment services and social security requirements. The Rights Guide has been a fantastic resource for unemployed workers, and it has been no easy task to maintain it, keep it up to date and distribute it.
This meeting is the beginning of dialogue with Dept of Jobs about the ways unemployed workers can access clear information about rights and responsibilities in forms that are more accessible and empowering than existing official channels. We have also asked for advance warning of policy so that we know about changes that affect the rights and responsibilities of unemployed workers before they take effect. Over the longer term the Union hopes to progress discussion on making Union volunteering an Approved Activity for the AAR.
There is a big difference between being heard and listened to. To this end we will maintain respectful engagement with Dept of Jobs to progress better outcomes for unemployed workers.
by Valerie Farfalla, Vice president AUWU
‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’
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.