How Job Agencies Bully the Sick

To whom it may concern at Advance Personel/ Workways,

Hello my name is Anastasia (Ana) Hanson, I spoke to you today about what has become in my opinion a destructive relationship with my Advance Personnel worker, possibly with the organization as a whole. Attached is the Centrelink medical certificate for you asked for. I tried to message it to the phone number you gave me, apparently it wasn’t received by Melony* and later this afternoon I received a message saying that it was not a valid phone number for a client to message to. I wish to outline how things have gotten to the point where I feel that this program is actually being destructive to my health, well-being, and in the long term – employment outcomes. Please take the time to read these concerns.

I came to this service as a volunteer whilst on the Disability Pension because I wanted to work; unemployment making me bored, poor and depressed. At the time this seemed the right thing for me to do although in hindsight maybe it was a mistake.

I did not have Centrelink requirements to participate in eight hours of work before I engaged with this service independently. I never had a meeting with this agency or  Centrelink where a doctor’s certificate outlined that I should be obliged to work for eight hours a week. I do not know how this change came about, although I suspect it was forced on me because I wanted to find employment. I wanted to work… this does not mean I was in a medically stable position to have that forced on me. Regardless, these requirements have been put in place although at this moment I am not well enough to meet them. I do know that advance personnel has certain requirements to engage with me but I believe the following such incidences explain why I believe it is actually become quite toxic.

  • I was hospitalised for two weeks in which time Melony* was still making appointments for me to come and see her – obviously I could not make these. I got the impression that Melinda did not believe I was in hospital to begin with, however she called the hospital and found I was indeed an inpatient. She continued to make appointments for me the entire time I was in Hospital. Almost every day I asked my nurses and doctors to write a letter as Melinda suggested but it was not until my discharge that I received a medical certificate. I handed this certificate to Melinda as soon I what’s I was able to come to Advance Personnel.
  • I went virtually from one acute illness to another, for which I am being treated now and for which my doctor has recommended a few months to recover without any threat to my welfare payment. During this period I decided that it was not safe for me to drive (and I cannot walk to the closest bus stop)… Regardless Melony* keeps telling me to come in for appointments without offering any realistic solutions as to how I can do that. I have between three and five medical or disability support appointments a week at present, I also need to go to the pharmacy twice a week, (grocery shopping is something I’m not prioritising the moment, although I know it is important – I am often hungry). It is very difficult for me to attend medical appointments but I do have a worker from the organization TREC who has been helping me. However when I explained that I am doing my best to work on recovery – by trying to get to appointments for example- this was met with a kind of accusation: (paraphrasing) that if I can make it to my doctors, how come I can’t meet the requirements to look for eight hours of work a week?
  • I feel like my illness has too often been questioned despite my best attempts to give evidence, a kind of accusation that I am not really ill – (paraphrasing ) because Centrelink hasn’t approved an exemption for work requirements within  24 hours of me going to Centrelink, then did I really go to Centrelink at all? Do I even have adoctor’s certificate? If I am so sick how did I even get to Centrelink? As explained:  from the moment I went to hospital I have done everything to try and get doctor’s certificates to Advance Personnel and to Centrelink, however once I have asked my doctor (as in hospital), or lodged something to Centrelink  (as in yesterday), sent MMS messages to a phone number that was later revealed to have never received it, there really is nothing more in my power I can do. I am sending this email now with attachments, but please bear in mind that I only got the letter yesterday and I was given the impression that sending the letter via MMS would be adequate. And I am very unwell.
  •  When I try to explain all of this to Melony* she says, “I understand mate but you have to come in”, it seems she does not understand all -I CANNOT come in. Furthermore I do not want to come in simply to placate Centrelink, when from the beginning I wanted to treat looking for work seriously. I do not think my worker seriously cares about my prospects for employment. I feel the decisions I have made such as focusing on recovery, not driving when I feel I am too unwell to do it safely, with only limited access to transport prioritising medical appointments over seeing Advance Personnel etc – are the right decisions to make when I bear in mind long-term recovery and long-term prospects of employment. I feel that Melony* does not care why I am making these decisions, she only cares that I come in so she can mark me off for Centrelink
  • Melony* is calling me every second day – ‘You have to come in, You have to come in – no ‘buts’, I understand mate but you have to come in’, now she is threatening me with ‘disciplianry action’.

I do understand there are certain obligations AdvancePersonnel workers have to follow, however; I had a much better relationship with my previous worker Sarah*. Although I still had periods of illness at that time, we had a constructive relationship that was focused on eventually getting me into work (encouraging me to focus on my health while looking for work, introducing me to volunteer work, taking my obstacles to work seriously and engaging in things that would make me more prepared to have meaningful employment in the long-term). In contrast, the one time I saw Melony* in between these two acute periods of illness I expressed my concerns about how my disability/illness would affect my reliability in the workplace – she simply said, ‘just don’t worry about it ’. All of the above gives me the impression that my worker sees her job with me to simply mark me off for Centrelink, but is not really interested in my long-term prospects of working which MUST involve considering the impact of my disability on my ability to work, hopefully working around it, but it seems unrealistic to just “not worry about it.”

When Advance Personnel merged with Work Ways and I somehow went from being a volunteer to having paperwork for Centrelink at my appointments, I expressed some concern- while I was happy to sign the documentation for Centrelink I worried that the focus of the organisation would become orientated to meeting the requirements ABOVE realistic engagement in employment. I hope that this isn’t true overall of Advance Personnel/Work Ways… But my recent experiences seem to warrant my concerns. Melony* is most likely following all of the protocol of her job, however I hope you can see that for me it seems that the focus ISN’T employment: I feel I am being hassled, accused of feigning illness and threatened with poverty as ‘disciplinary action’, while the truth is I am dealing with health problems that are a matter of life and death.

Obviously this is highly stressful for me or I wouldn’t be writing such a letter. As you know I am hoping that Centrelink will exempt me from looking for work for the next three months. I DID  go to Centrelink yesterday, I believe they probably just haven’t processed for form yet. I s believe I will be exempted. If I am not – I will appeal that decision and I am pretty sure I will have the support of my healthorkers. I need this period to focus on my health. If I recover adequately I truly do wish to work, I spent seven years at university and have post-graduate qualifications. When I start to look for work I would really appreciate some help from a disability organisation (Advance Personnel or otherwise). I have worked before and when I look for work I take it very seriously. When I need to focus on my health I take that very seriously as well. Those two priorities have to coexist. And for me to truly progress with employment I believe I need a worker (Sarah* was a fine example), who will understand this struggle, and take me seriously as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this,

Yours sincerely,

Ana Hanson.