By Peter Boyle
Desperate for a job? How about $3000 a week to work with a British construction company in Kuwait? You answer the ad and get a letter promising return air fares, all meals and free accommodation. All you have to do is send $30 to New Life Roofing at a post office box in Adelaide. Amazed at your sudden good luck after months of fruitless job searching, you rush off a cheque — and never hear another word from the company.
With more than a million people looking for jobs, con artists and unscrupulous employers are having a field day. Job Watch Inc, an independent, government-assisted body based in Melbourne, has compiled a long list of scams aimed at the unemployed. The Kuwaiti dodge was only one, and far from the nastiest.
Several complaints to Job Watch resulted in one Carlos Van Jager getting five and a half years' jail for rape. A slick operator, Van Jager advertised a modelling course at his agency, The Face. He convinced several young women that he took photographs for Playboy, Penthouse, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Mode.
According to the women, he made extravagant promises, flattered them and then gave them spiked champagne to extract money from them and rape them. Jager was convicted last November for the rape of one 19-year-old, though seven charges were initially laid against him. The Mannequins and Models' Guild of Australia is concerned at the number of disreputable operators preying on the eagerness of many young people to become models.
While the rape and send-money scams are obvious criminal offences, many other bodgie job operations operate technically within the law.
Honduran rates of pay
Several scams offer apparently lucrative overseas jobs. This year there's a flurry of ads for work in Spain because of the Barcelona Olympics and the Universal Exposition in Seville. But watch out if fluency in Spanish or any other language is not required.
Some of these ads seek service staff aboard luxury liners, or bar attendants for an Australian pub in Spain. But applicants have to put up their own return fares. One such scheme was actually organised by a travel agency through which successful applicants had to buy their tickets!
In another scheme offering work aboard luxury liners moored off
Seville, all staff are offered work as "merchant sailors" aboard a Honduran-registered ship. This would mean Honduran wages of about $100 weekly.
Another overseas job scam was a two-way operation run from South Melbourne. The company advertised in Australia for "experienced chefs for UK, Europe, USA", and overseas for jobs as chefs in Australia.
Applicants in Australia sent their applications to an address in Manchester, and interviews were arranged in Melbourne. "Accepted" applicants were asked to pay at least $2100 to cover expenses. They were given tickets and told they would be met at their overseas destination. Two cases reported to Job Watch ended with the "successful applicants" waiting unmet at the airport in London. There were no jobs. One chef was deported back to Australia; the other came back under his own steam after building up debts of $30,000.
An English chef enticed to Australia by the same outfit was met at Tullamarine airport by a woman who described herself as the company's public relations officer, and then dropped off at a house in the seaside suburb of Brighton. Together with others, he was asked to open bank accounts and apply for Medicare cards and tax file numbers. Their passports were taken away and they were told they could work only for the company. Yet no jobs materialised and these people were left to fend for themselves in Melbourne.
No experience necessary
Then there's the ad we've all seen: "Big City Expansion. Promotions Company requires over 30 people immediately. Learn everything from sales, marketing, advertising, admin, through to management. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. Must be ambitious and self-motivated. Call ... "
There are other versions, some promising "up to $500 per week", all put out by a company that keeps changing its name, says Job Watch. The company has operated under the names Redhaven, Booksmart, Biramint, Publishers' Clearing House, Cabra Imports, SNA Pty Ltd, Dello Ford and Wholesale Warehouse Industries. It was exposed in the Victorian parliament in 1989 for refusing to pay full wages, misleading advertising, ignoring awards and avoiding payroll tax and Workcare obligations, but that didn't stop it operating.
Job Watch has received complaints from people who have worked for this company up to 70 hours a week for as little as $50! The relevant award entitles a salesperson to a guaranteed minimum wage of $374 for a 38-hour week and a car allowance of between $130 and $190, but the company evades the award by subcontracting
Another type of "job ad" actually involves a product or service for sale rather than a job, though it is placed in the employment section of the newspapers, says Job Watch's Lyn Beaton. "The ads insinuate that the product will secure employment for a purchaser. But no training course or resume can guarantee anyone a job at any time, especially with over 10% unemployment."
People responding to ads for film extras have been hit for a $50 "registration fee", and hopeful salespersons have been asked to buy stock that has proved unsaleable.
Job scams often seek to exploit the most disadvantaged, such as the young (youth unemployment is officially 32.7% nationally and 46% in Victoria), migrants and even the physically or mentally disadvantaged.
One young woman answering an ad for an apprentice pastry cook in Melbourne was told she would have to work for two weeks without pay "on trial". She was interviewed by a "chef" in a kitchen and told she would be competing with another woman, who scrubbed pots right through the interview. The "chef" had a long list of prospective apprentices, enough to do his work for weeks on a "trial basis" without paying a cent.
A number of companies are using people with disabilities to sell household products door to door. Usually the company adopts a name that suggests that it is a charity or linked to a charity. One scam involved liquid detergents with an appeal for "Help!" to assist the "unemployed and handicapped" become self-employed. "Help!" was found to be a trading name of a deregistered company. The sellers were paid a 25% commission on sales. One apparently mentally disadvantaged seller told a householder he had walked from Footscray, in Melbourne's west, to the eastern suburb of Brighton!
Public warnings are now circulating in Victoria about a private business operating as "Share Care Fundraising" — an attempt to identify with the government-funded and widely advertised Share Care project offering weekend care for children of families under pressure.
The number of rip-off operations has increased dramatically with the recession. In a national survey in May 1991, Job Watch found that around 10% (1193 out of 12,361) of job advertisements were dubious. A similar survey of 32,000 jobs in 1989 found 5.9% dubious. The proportion of dubious ads has increased as the
overall volume of ads has shrunk by more than 60%.
There are now more than 120 unemployed people for every job advertised in newspapers nationally. A recent advertisement for a receptionist in Melbourne attracted 800 applicants. Despite reported "signs of economic recovery", official unemployment rose again, to 10.5%, in February. In this situation, many more people will be vulnerable targets of the growing bodgie jobs industry. If you know of a job scam, Job Watch is located at 49 Drummond Street, Carlton Vic 3052. Phone: (03) 662 1933. Fax: (03) 663 2924.