Category Archives: Your Stories

Work for the Dole Updates: Members’ Stories

Recently the union asked our members for stories and information regarding their experiences with work for the dole. The response has been amazing! In this series of posts we want to share some of the harrowing tales from the coalface of this ridiculous programme.

If you or anyone you know has done work for the dole, make sure to fill out our survey to help us Boycott Work for the Dole #BoycottWFTD

Kara from Queensland says her work was demeaning, abusive and pointless:

Utterly disgusting. No training, no explanation of tasks needing to be done. Slave labor for zero benefit. Verbally abused by the “supervisor”. Made a formal written complaint, site manager brushed it off completely. I left and never returned. Sorting rotten fruit and vegetables for 8 hours a day. Mopping floors multiple times a day when once was more than sufficient. Biggest waste of my time ever!

Lisa from the Blue Mountains was forced to work at Vinnies, but there was little to do, seems like another situation where the JSA and the host are more interested in getting their government payouts than actually getting people into work.

I was not allowed to be trained on the till or anything else. The only job I was allowed to do was to colour code the clothes on the racks and pick up dropped coathangers. So nothing, really. I was not allowed any breaks at all, while the volunteers got morning tea supplied and a lunch break, I was required to “work” through, though there was no actual work to be done.

The irony is not lost on James in Sydney who reckons his host organisation’s mission was undermined by their methods:

Coercive slavery for a religious organisation that claimed to provide respite for the less fortunate but forcibly employed those same people instead of actually being a good corporate citizen and paying someone for their work!

We were not told about safety issues, we were encouraged by the Work for the Dole not to bother with insurance for accidents, we could not use it for a resume, and the whole exercise took us away from actually applying for actual work!

A story from the other side, Judith, a worker hired to implement a WFTD programme in Victoria, says she was massively under-resourced and had to reach into her own pocket to get basic needs met. At the AUWU we ask, where does all the funding for this programme disappear to?

I was employed under contract by St Vincent De Paul to run a Work For The Dole program over 10 years ago, and I found the facilities for participants were incredibly substandard, while expectations of them were incredibly high. Likewise, the conditions for me as the sole staff member onsite. I endeavored to make the environment as safe and comfortable for participants as possible, but I was untrained and unable to secure the necessary resources from my employer. I often had to use my own money and resources to run the program. It was among the more humiliating treatment of human beings that I have ever seen and I would not work in such a role ever again. I felt that the participants and I were all trapped in a cruel, unfair and broken system. I have also lost all belief in, and respect for, St Vincent De Paul as a charitable organisation, and for the Work For the Dole program.

Sandor from Ethelton in South Australia was exposed to asbestos before he successfully got the worksite shut down. This is an absolute outrage and there are many questions unanswered:

I was exposed to Asbestos at my work for the dole site. Safe work SA cover up. They denied any information about the investigation. All they would tell me is the site is shut down. I am the person who started the investigation. I have photos of the Asbestos also the asbestos managment center confirmed how dangerous it was. Michalea Cash claims the asbestos i was exposed to was safe and the site was safe. I have her letter from her saying this and other lies. No one from work for dole site the supervior host or job network was held liable or prosecuted for my exposure. Every day I think about what they done to me. If it will affect me it’s a matter of time. Shut Work for the dole down it has killed inocent people already and will injure and kill more.
Pissed off

Ted from Brisbane was forced to perform skilled labour with no training, under extremely unsafe conditions:

Very exhausting , my job is doing a fully qualified tradies would do. eg. putting up a corrugated steel ceiling and insulation in the roof system . two persons get hoisted up using a forklift and standing on a pellet without a cage or a harness. One wrong move and can you can fall onto a concrete floor. Very unsafe , I mentioned it to the team leader , he just said it is fine.

That’s it for this update, but we’ve got more to come. In the mean time we’d love to hear your story and if you want to help Boycott Work for the Dole, please fill out our survey!

Bullied while suffering with cancer. Cut off while recovering from surgery

By Ann-Maria, AUWU Member

Ive been abused, harassed, cut off my payments because I missed an appointment i wasn’t informed of. I had a total hysterectomy in April this year. I had 2 severe infections and i caught bronchitis. Due to having cancer of the ovaries and cervix, and also due to surgery my immune system is very low which means i get a lot sicker for a lot longer. Ive also had 4 c-sections prior to all this so my healing and recovering is taking much longer.

I kept my job network fully informed. They were aware I had cancer and surgery. My surgery was on 18th April. The 1-2nd wk in may i received 7 letters in 7 days for the one appt. I told them AGAIN i was sick. I got abused yelled at n insulted with arrogance. I called jobs statewide head office asking for this to be sorted out n made a complaint. Or so i thought. I haven’t heard back from them. Now i apparently missed another appointment but when i went in there they told me I had the wrong day. They have cut my Centrelink payments.

Ive tried calling n calling n calling but i get no answer or nobody calls me back. If I lose my payments then ill lose EVERYTHING. My home, my furniture, my pets. Everything. I have been treated so badly that I’m scared to go into the office! Can u plz help me try to sort this as the stress is seriously affecting my mental n psychological state. I already suffer from ADHD, OCD, PTSD, severe mixed anxiety, severe depression and vasovagula syncope.

If i could work I WOULD IN A HEARTBEAT! Id do anything to stop this bullying! I cant handle it much longer. I was homeless last september. Ive worked so hard to build a beautiful home after everything I’ve been thru and if i lose it I WILL NOT cope. Im barely coping now. Please help me if u can. I beg you

A Broken Social Security Systems Leads To Bullying Workplaces – A First Hand Account

By an AUWU Member

Recently I resigned from my casual job at a regional council Gallery due to bullying and discrimination. It took me over a year to land this casual position and I was grateful for the small amount of work the Gallery drip fed me, which had me competing for hours with four other women and which hasn’t allowed me to get off welfare benefits. I asked constantly for more work but instead they recently hired more casual staff and took on volunteers! I was also tasked with picking up stock from 150ks away which involved two trips of a total of 10 hours, in my own vehicle, for which I was allowed to claim 4.5 hours for and received no petrol allowance.

Before my resignation I was a fairly new staff member having been employed just before a period of renovation which saw casuals receive only a few days work during the past 6 months. I had received very little training prior to the renovation period and that which I did receive was made difficult by a supervisor who was in a deeply bad mood all the time. I tried very hard to develop a positive working relationship and friendship with my supervisor and have been disappointed that my attempts ultimately failed.

I resumed work over the last few weeks in an unpleasent, stressed out environment where I was alternately bossed around, hissed at, bullied or ignored by my supervisor. I was not greeted when I arrived for my shift, I bought her a decaf one morning and she snapped at me for it because she doesn’t like coffee. When I needed help and tried to explain how I needed help and with what aspect of a task I was confused about I was told to consult a manual which the supervisor had written, one which I had difficultly making sense of and I was further criticized for not paying enough attention or not asking for more help more often when I made mistakes. Even though she spent a good deal of time managing her family crisis on her mobile I was told I could not use my phone at work. In short I couldn’t do anything right at all and she tended to work to a double standard.

I am in cancer recovery, my 3rd year out of treatment and I had informed my supervisor on more than one occasion that I had difficulty concentrating due to the medications I take and understanding procedures takes me a bit of extra time. My supervisor remaind oblivious to this fact in her approach to my training.

My supervisor had a habit of standing uncomfortably close to me when I was working on the desktop and would look over my shoulder while I was entering passwords into the computer, when trying to perform tasks my supervisor would cut in and accuse me of fault before I had even started to perform the task. When I completed a task my supervisor would find fault in the task to point of critisizing me for not putting an item of stationary in the correct draw and placing a key on the wrong side of the desk.

I was made to feel so nervous that I could not perform basic tasks and I suffered from deep anxiety during work hours if I was rostered with her. Hot flashes which are a side effect of the meds I am on, were made worse from stress during and after work hours due to this behaviour. On the 25 of July I received an email from my supervisor asking me to call her “asap” which I did and was subsequently accused of stealing from the til the night before. I had left a note explaining that the til had not balanced on paper (I had the opportunity of personally balancing the til around 4 times and had expressed my lack of experience to my supervisor prior to my shifts). I was unsure why the report did not match, having had limited experience with the software system, but was sure it was a balanced till, ie: all the cash and eftpos transactions were accounted for but in the wrong place, we needed to run a report and see where the missing amount had gone and I did not know how to do that. My supervisors response seemed over the top, literally hissing at me over the phone “what have you done with the money?” “where’s the money? What have you done?” the tone of which made me panic and unable to respond at all. Later in the day she called me back insisting that I come into work the next day for a “talking to” with the other staff member I had been working with and was palpably frustrated when I expressed that I could not on such short notice, owing to another engagement. She kept saying she wanted to know what I had done with the money so I suggested that she involve security seeings she was clearly implying I had stolen the money and she said she had already done that,(the missing amount was $80.00, the money was located later that day but no one thought to inform me about it).

I explained my concerns regarding my lack of effective training to my supervisor again over the phone and repeated this in my letter of resignation toward the end of the day to the Director of the Gallery who sent me a very rude email back accusing me of letting the team down, being an untrainable person, choosing to learn in a particular way (I am a person who learns by experience and doing, learning from my mistakes. I don’t choose to be like this, it is the way I am neurologically wired) and causing a “security breach” by leaving a door unlocked on a day when I was not even working. My supervisor had misinformed him about the days I was rostered on making someone else’s mistake seem like it was mine. At no time did the Director ask for my testimony regarding the situation leading up to my resignation. I am currently seeking legal advise about this matter and am back to trying to live on a welfare payment of $250 a week. The experience has been incredibly demoralising, disempowering and disturbing. My longterm situation of underemployment has left me in a position where I am unable to cope with bullying behaviours in the workplace and as a constant casual I feel I have no support at all, not from fellow staff or from my superiors. I am very depressed from this isolating experience which has robbed me of the small amount of workplace agency I possessed over the past year and a half. This experience compounds negative and antisocial thinking which I have begun to experience on a regular basis.

My Disability Job Provider defamed me and sabotaged my job and records

crowd (1)  By Anonymous

I have written here once before on being bullied badly by my disability employment agency but this time I will name and shame.

I have a disability provider as I suffer with bad back problems as well as depression. I recently have changed providers because of the bullying tactics that were being used against me as well as loosing my job due to the behaviour of my last case manager Sue Wagner from Adelaide Personal Placements based at Kilkenny. (Would also be interested if anyone else has been bullied by this person). On attending my new provider we were going through what was on my file and bipolar was mentioned, I have never suffered from or been diagnoised with bipolar.
Anyway last year I had got into a course and gained employment as a support worker. My plan was going on to study mental health this year and the place I was employed with were fully aware of my intentions and to start with, supported this. Anyway I had a major argument with this Sue Wagner about my rights. Next thing I knew that she had contacted my workplace and told them that due to my mental status that she personally did not think I was suited to a position in mental health. When my employer spoke with me they told me that even though they knew my heart was set on studying mental health at this stage they were now not even going to consider it due to my case manager Sue Wagner informing them of my mental health status. I automatically assumed she had disclosed I suffered from depression knowing that and my back condition were the only things I was seeing a disability provider for. I thought it was a big turn around for my employer to do this as I had disclosed in my initial job interview that I had suffered from depression and I thought I would be good at working with people with mental health because of this.
I therefore had to resign as the only thing this employer was to offer me now was cleaning peoples homes in which I cant do due to my back problems. It was only last week when going through my file with my new provider that bipolar was mentioned. I am positive this Sue Wegner From Adeladie Personal Management had added this to my file as I had put in a big complaint about her as well as the fact that due to moving houses 6 times in last 4 years I have had a number of different disability providers and every time I have started with a new provider you get asked about what is on your file and bipolar has never ever been mentioned before until changing from Adelaide Personal Management to my new provider due to Sue Wegners bullying. I lost my job only 6 weeks before christmas after working on my new career for previous 9 months. I had been unemployed for 3 years and found it hard enough to get a job due to my disability let alone having my name defamed to my new employer as well as this bitch deliberatly sabotaging my job and file.
There job is to help us not put us back in to poverty and I am now facing being homeless due to not being enough low income rental properties available as I am now unemployed again. I can not believe how much these employment providers can actually add and change information on our personal centrelink files. Surely this is a crime and surely there has to be something more I can do than just reporting them to compaints department through job access. Anyone with some helpful information on what path I can take to help put a stop to these employment agencies being able to sabotage our files like I have had happen please leave a message for me. Thanks
The AUWU’s national advocacy hotline number is (03) 8394 5266

Working for a Job agency – A First Hand Account

Where do I start?

A lot happened in 10 years.

I have a history of working in an industry that requires compassion as one of the essential requirements and so bring to my work a perspective based on that compassion.

Years ago in the first round of job network, I found myself unemployed and referred to a Job Network Member (JNM). A young lass 10 years my junior was assigned to me, who felt more than comfortable telling me what to do and how to do it despite my having more experience at job seeking. This experience was insulting, humiliating and embarrassing to the point where I thought I can do better than this…. much, much better. Please keep in mind that despite doing little else than commanding me to be compliant, the JNM expected me to inform them of when I gained employment so that they could receive their payment from the government…. for what? I certainly did not have any individualised or practical help that led directly to my job, my contract was not negotiated, and I was threatened with penalties.

Getting a job I did all on my own in spite of the JNM, certainly not as a result of their presence in my life. All I got from my JNM was what I call “the Attitude”, where every single client was frowned upon and treated like a second class citizen. We were talked down to, patronised, given platitudes and offers of help that never came, we weren’t treated as individuals, I rather felt like cattle being walked through to the slaughter house.

So, after a long, arduous and emotionally painful slog, I managed to gain a short contract as a case manager, where the JNM has one year to work with a client in helping them to secure employment. I was also studying to get my Workplace trainer and assessor – now TAE – at the same time. The contract was not renewed and I was very happy that it wasn’t. The people at the JNM were just as judgemental and critical of their client base as was the JNM I attended. I was constantly being remonstrated for trying to help everyone on my caseload and redirected to breaking up my caseload into 3 categories:

1. Those who would get a job without my help

2. Those who would get a job with my help and

3. The “unemployable”

I was instructed to:

Ignore group 1 and just keep tabs on them in order to make a claim,

Assist group 2 and keep tabs on them in order to make a claim, and

To ignore group 3 all together.

This assessment was all based on a 1 hour interview! Needless to say, I was shocked by the arrogance of it all and the rest.

I then found employment with another JNM as a Job Search Trainer (JST), where the JNM has only 3 weeks in which to assist clients to secure employment. The site was in the red and failing, my first group consisted of 2 people not the required 15. I received half a day of on the job training and then left to my own devices and very little to work with, just a proforma manual that was issued to the clients and no other resources whatsoever! The clients were sitting in the main area reading the daily newspapers and failing to look for work. The site was dead and dull with no energy or atmosphere. If anything, it was dark, depressing and heavy with despair. The JST was expected to run a full day on Fridays and sign up 15 individuals in-between all that; hardly conducive to providing a quality service to ones clients. So, I embarked on an overhaul introducing things like group sign ups, where the introduction to the service, explaining the contract and the expectations of the clients and the JNM were introduced over a 1 hour period to the whole group that included question time and then the opportunity to actually sit and discuss the contract at private and individualised sessions thereafter. I also offered my clients the option of signing the contract on the spot if they felt comfortable doing so as I felt that this too was being mindful of respecting their time and individual desires/needs. Prior to the Friday morning, I would call each client individually reminding them of their appointment with me (this was not being done). I did this not only to increase attendance but to minimise breaching which was mandatory on failure to attend. If my clients couldn’t make it I would explain to them that they had already signed a contract with Centrelink agreeing to participate and that they ran the risk of a breach. I would then instruct them on how to provide me with evidence for their file and re-arrange another appointment: rather than what was previously happening which was instant breaches for non-attendance. I wouldn’t just stress what was required of my clients, I would also tell them what was required of me and what formed part of my job description, by giving my clients this information, I was empowering them to avoid any penalties such as a breach of contract. In short, I did everything I legally could to assist them in making informed choices. I did also give them the choice to receive a breach, which surprisingly some of them actually chose, despite my efforts to encourage them to attend and avoid it. I did not limit my classes to JST, I invited our only case manager to refer their clients to my class as well. We had the spare seats available and it made no difference to my how many clients were referred as they would eventually go back to the case manager for follow up with the actual job search. I also invited my colleague who did job matching to do the same, basically any client who accessed the site was welcome.

Another change I introduced was stripping the newspapers of any content other than job adverts and the rest of the newspaper went to a local vet for pet litter. This needed to happen in order to stop clients from being distracted by the daily news, the lack of job seeking activity was adding to the depression associated with failing to find employment. Instead, I made myself present in the main room, sat at the same table with them and physically helped them with their job search. I rewrote many of the subjects so that they were easily digestible and to reproduce and assessed each client on competency, ensuring that they were walking away with a skill for the future, rather than someone writing their resume for them. I used workshopping not lecture style training and did a needs analysis before every single topic and modified training to each group each week (easy enough to do if you know your material). In doing this the clients wrote their own material (resumes, application letters etc.) and had much of the say in how they represented themselves to employers, they weren’t taught things they already knew. I was simply there to edit and advise. If I had a particularly diverse group, I would ask permission of the more advanced clients if I could buddy them up with those who needed a little more guidance. I introduced having access to tea and coffee just like many employees have at work and also introduced the 3 job limit. Centrelink contracts then stated that if a client was able to perform a job recommended for them, regardless of what it was, then they were obliged to attend an interview or face a breach. An extreme example would be someone with a doctorate being forced to attend an interview to sort recycling. One does not need to be an Einstein to see how that would end. So, I introduced a goal setting topic that encouraged my clients to choose either 3 diverse jobs in the same industry or the same job in 3 different industries. By returning the choice of employment back to them, I was returning power back to them, thereby increasing their motivation and hope for securing gainful employment. By providing a limit, their energies were not spread too thin, yet they could still play the numbers game to increase their chances of success.

Remember, I had none of this when I was a client myself, but I wish I had.

By the time I had settled into this second job, the main room was buzzing with energy and activity, we were achieving and often exceeding our 15 client target and we were getting outcomes that met the employers KPI’s and that were also directly in line with the desires of the individual client, thus resulting in job retention. There was laughter and camaraderie, there was support and activity, there was self paced and self motivated and above there was hope.

In all my time with this second company, only 2 clients wound up returning and they specifically said they wanted me personally to assist them. Every so often a group of clients would “reward” me for my efforts. One group even held a ceremony and gave me a certificate of achievement, which I still have and hold dear. We were a small team at this site and so it wasn’t too hard to influence my colleagues in treating the clients with dignity and respect. The outcomes we achieved as from something so simple as compassion, resulted in my bringing the site back into the black, we survived that tender round and were set to move on to the next round. My managers, however, could not see eye to eye with me. This too was a short lived contract of only one year. I did visit some time later, I can’t remember what for, and the site was back to the dark, depressing den of despair. That site closed down on the next tender round after mine, for failing to achieve the minimum 3 stars.

There was a third company but that job placement did not last long. Again management disagreed with how I perceived my clients, sadly I cannot repeat what I saw going on at that site as these activities would be best described as illegal and wroughting the system. I didn’t last long as I couldn’t be a part of that.

Then I went to Centrelink, 40 jobs were vacant and 3,500 people applied; I was one of the successful candidates. The staff were good to me and did not want me to leave, they even encouraged me to transfer to a more suitable department, but you cannot be compassionate and work at Centrelink and survive.

I DO believe that the majority of folk on unemployment benefits would rather be working; one must remember that I have, more than once, been one of those folk myself. Yet, working at Centrelink, I also did have dishonest customers who either did not need benefits and had worked out legal loopholes, or those who were simply working in the black and receiving benefits as well, with their employers as willing accomplices. This too was a one year stint, I found that in order to protect myself emotionally, I was becoming dispassionate and, yes, this was as a direct result of the dishonest clients. They were very good at fooling a bleeding heart like me. It was only after the mandatory financial investigations, that were a direct result of working in an office in an affluent part of town, that we discovered hidden or redistributed funds or people working in the black.  …and here I was thinking that these poor people were as desperate as they claimed to be. Of course I had genuine people who were needy present to me; but what I found astonishing was how many folk really were trying to manipulate the system. I mean really. Being a compassionate person I was able to develop trust. I had people volunteering what “naughty” things they were doing. I had to leave, I couldn’t cover for them, I personally would have been held legally liable if I did, yet how can one be compassionate to a customer who has millions when the next customer has zero? So, one becomes cold, hard and distant. Yet, I stress that this is a survival mechanism, staff at Centrelink don’t start out the way they end up.

You may have noticed a thread happening here. I just could not find a place in the Job Network, now Job Active system that lent itself to a compassionate individual who treated their clients with the dignity and respect that one would want for themselves. My approach was either not tolerated or abused. To say that I was starting to lose heart is an understatement. Yet, my own past personal experience was so intense that it spurred me on to continue.

My final destination before returning to – we’ll call it my compassionate work – was a very large JNM; I was with them for many years. Again, the site I started at had nothing, not even a client manual. I had to draw on my past experience and create a whole new department single handedly with no training. I did have support insofar as my first line manager was an understanding individual who had an open door policy, but other than that for the first year I was on my own. This was where I felt “the attitude” again, from the staff.

Now this is most probably something I should not say out loud, more so for the distress that it will cause, but… all I ever heard in the lunch room was staff disparaging their clients. Never once in all my years working in JN did I hear a positive thing said about a client. I was constantly astonished at how well staff had mastered the ability to find fault even when a person presented well. I would often speak up in defence of the clients. Sadly, this did not lead to any changes in attitude, rather, I was shunned, spurred, no longer tolerated and often the source of their bitching and gossiping. Luckily, we were in a large enough premises that I could effectively operate in isolation… and I did, for many years. Such was my belief that one can achieve better than expected results simply by being humane, that I stuck it out to prove a point. Not only had my own personal experience left an indelible memory, but it was the principle as well. The irony is that I was most likely the only staff member actually practising the code of conduct and respecting the clients rights.

Job Network then – I can’t speak for Job Active now – was a high turn over industry, I am guessing from the pressure placed upon its members to achieve targets. I can’t say that I ever felt that pressure, as I truly believe I had stumbled upon the recipe to success. All and any new staff were trained by me and lesson one was dignity and respect! Lesson two was walk a mile in their shoes. Every staff member I ever trained was asked have you ever sat in that chair? When they answered no, I informed them that I had and that my experience was so bad that I intended to do better. This usually worked at getting their attention. Sadly, you can’t fight the herd mentality. Once those individuals left my tutelage to progress with the company, I found that they folded and yielded to the toxic culture of disparagement. The pressure to conform, to fit in, to avoid being treated the way that I was is so intense that even those who know better or those with the best of intentions yield. Eventually, I gave up and returned to my previous career.

I did once again find myself unemployed, sadly we cannot predict how the wheel of fortune turns, and where once there was prosperity, all of a sudden there can be abject poverty. Again I was at the mercy of a JNM. When the manager looked at my resume, they remarked in astonishment that I could teach them a thing or two. Sadly, this individual did not tweak that it was only by the grace of God that they too did not find themselves in my shoes. I was forced, yes, with the threat of a breach to study Job searching techniques in hard copy and provide evidence that I had done so. I called the authorities to complain, they agreed with my complaint and yet failed to achieve a meaningful outcome for me. I received, no assistance whatsoever, and yet was constantly made to comply with time wasting activities that directly impacted negatively on my job search. What is it they say? The more things change the more they stay the same? Anyway, once again, via my own efforts and with no thanks to a JNM who couldn’t even achieve something as basic as getting a confirmation; I found my own employment single handedly.

The population on benefits is so diverse, that it is hard to tell the needy from the greedy, the honest from the dishonest, those able to represent themselves well and those unable to. Assets tests can be manipulated or a horrible mistake made. Working an illegal job without paying tax is made easy when employers are willing accomplices and yet under employment is on the rise as a result of bona fide employers restructuring to meet the needs of a changing job market. Being forced by  JNM’s to jump through hoops that one has been teaching for 10 years regardless of staff stating in astonishment, “you probably know more than me” so that they can meet their legal requirements whilst at the same time failing to provide meaningful assistance all speaks to a flawed and complicated system.

So… it isn’t perfect, it can be a nightmare to navigate through, it can be emotionally damaging and it can wreak financial hardship rather than assuaging it; but from one who has been on every single side of the system, I can say this.

I am so very grateful we at least have one.