By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — Some of the strongest complaints about government and opposition plans to "train" young people for jobs that don't exist concern the exploitation this will make possible. In fact, there is already considerable exploitation in present circumstances.
Debbie Watson enjoyed the eight weeks she spent at TAFE learning skills needed to work in a nursing home. "It gave me a lot of experience. It was very good, not just for the sake of a job but for what I learned about what happens to people when they grow old. It's a really great course."
At 16, Debbie is just starting her working life. Busy getting references together and applying for jobs, she is confident about her prospects. But in the meantime, it is hard to make ends meet.
"As it is now, I'm on Job Search allowance", she told Green Left at the Young Christian Workers office/house at Granville, where she lives. "I get $110 plus rent assistance. This fortnight, I haven't even been able to buy food, I don't have any money. I've got to pay $120 a fortnight for rent. Bond's $240, and with all other things, it doesn't fit in with the amount you get."
It was simply wrong to assume that all young people lived in families.
"I don't live at home, as you can see. They think everyone between 15 and 19 is living at home. Even on Job Search they put you on low pay because they can't understand why you are not at home. In some circumstances you can't live at home. Your parents might have remarried and the other partner might not want kids around.
"So you have to go out and get a flat, and try to get money to live on. I ring up my mum every now and then, and ask her if she's got any money, because I haven't got any food, I have hardly got anything at all. I think something like $160 would be livable, because you could buy food, pay rent. But the way I go through money, I don't know."
Joe Magri, a spokesperson for YCW, pointed out that the poverty line was $187. "If you are earning any less than $187 you are living in poverty. In the current government proposals there's been no mention of poverty levels or people's standard of living."
"They are trying to get people off the streets", said Debbie. "But how are they going to come off the streets if they are getting that sort of money?"
She pointed out that proposals for lower youth wages ignored the fact that wages for young people were already very low. "I was at Jewels for about four months. They gave lousy pay, I really needed more pay."
Kaylene Templeton, who also lives at the YCW house, welcomed the proposals for more job training for young people, although she was concerned about the low incomes proposed.
Her current job as a casual barmaid was enough to pay the bills, "but I can't bank anything". She had been keen to break into work as a medical receptionist. So keen, in fact, that she asked the Merrylands Medical Centre if she could do work experience there.
"I was going to do it for a month for nothing. They said: 'Oh, we normally give a month. You are not guaranteed a job at the end, but you are in line.' I thought it would be a foot in the door. But I only ended up doing it for one week before I got jacked off.
"I was using their computer, getting print-outs, taking them to the doctors and things, running around just like a junior would. I enjoyed it, but I decided not to go back because they told me to wear a petticoat.
"It was as if I was part of the place, fully part of the place. That felt good in one way, but for me to go out and get a petticoat, I thought, no. I had already supplied my own white uniform, stockings and shoes."