The federal government has plans to expand Work for the Dole. From July next year it will be compulsory for job-seekers aged 18-30 to do 25 hours of work a week.
The Anti-Poverty Network South Australia spoke to two former participants, Jarred Sferruzzi and John Murcott (not his real name) about their experiences on the scheme under the John Howard government.
When were you on Work For The Dole?
Sferruzzi: I was put on Work for the Dole in 2004, my first year out of high school. I only did it for a few weeks as I began a short course in an attempt to get into call centre work. A friend of mine did the same course and his Job Network agency paid for it, but when I asked mine to do the same, they refused.
Murcott: Late 2005, I lasted about two months before the glandular fever that took me out of work in the first place whilst working night shifts got worse. I was supposed to do three months during that 12 month period if my memory is correct.
What was your Work for the Dole placement?
Sferruzzi: I saw that community radio was on the list, so I told them I'd be interested in working there, but they refused because it was too far away. There were no similar options in my area. I was placed in the Salvation Army factory in the western suburbs. My job was on the production line, sorting through all the donations. It was extremely monotonous and unchallenging.
Murcott: Rebuilding and reformatting ex-government computers ready for schools who were getting “upgrades” to their systems. I had to do 12 hours a week instead of 20 due to my glandular fever.
I would have continued the work as it was decent, the most annoying thing was the government taking the cheap route to refurbish school computers. I took to the work really well, it didn't feel degrading, unlike going to the Job Network people. The actual work was good as it helped me understand how to fix my own PC
What were the benefits? Did it help you find work?
Sferruzzi: The only benefit from that I remember was making me hate the situation so much that I looked for any opportunity to leave. After completing the short course, after a few weeks I got a job as an Outbound Sales Call Centre Agent selling hotel packages.
It was a horrible job and after two weeks I decided to leave, however the company refused to pay me for my time as I was still in training. It was entirely unskilled work, it didn't help with my job prospects whatsoever.
I remember my Job Network member selling it to me by saying I would earn "education credit" that I could put towards TAFE study. From memory, working six months wouldn't even cover a basic TAFE course.
Murcott: Mostly personal benefits, having the confidence to fix a PC and get into the PC gaming world. Did it help me find work? Not really, it gave me the skills to work on a broken PC, which is a marketable skill in small businesses, but my next job at a mausoleum cleaning windows and brass fittings didn't really require computer knowledge at all.
I've since learned a lot more about the computing world and after a few years of trying what the Job Network people want me to try, I am now looking into getting into a 3D-modelling course so I can work in computer games or CGI for film or TV studios. So in a way it did help find a set of dormant skills I wouldn't have found otherwise but it hasn't translated into job prospects, not without going into debt in order to get the diploma.
What were the most frustrating parts of being on Work for the Dole?
Sferruzzi: The monotonous work, the length of time I had to travel there (just under an hour one-way on two buses), the overhanging threat of payments being cut should I not cooperate and the patronising attitude that all this was being done to help me.
Murcott: The way the Job Network process makes people feel like failures because they cannot find work. Then there's getting work done for a fraction of the proper cost. Another would obviously be my health at the time, much like now I don't like the fact that people are forced to go to these things regardless of their health
What would have helped you find work?
Sferruzzi: Having access to free tertiary education and further study would have helped me enter employment. Through my TAFE course, I was eventually able to land a permanent job in a call centre with Telstra.
If my Job Network agency had supported me earlier on, I wouldn't have gotten to the point where I needed to enter Work for the Dole. Had I been able to volunteer for community radio, I would have gained the skills that would have helped me enter the journalism industry that I am now working towards.
Murcott: At the time I shouldn't have been working, so it's hard to answer, but more opportunities at meaningful education, rather than the certificates one or two that the Job Networks will give you that are now meaningless in the workplace as everyone on the dole has one.
Why do you think the government is expanding Work for the Dole?
Sferruzzi: In part because they genuinely believe forcing people into slave labour will help them into further employment. As someone who comes from an extremely poor background, unless you work towards creating a more egalitarian society, the only possible outcome of Work for the Dole is to ostracise already marginalised people.
Murcott: I hold a firm belief that the current system is set up to keep the class divided. Public and private education has a gulf between it, not just in terms of quality, but in terms of perceptions of employers, which then hampers the efforts of those who do try and better themselves in the current system.