Who wins from work for the dole?

Issue 

By Leigh Hughes and Nick Soudakoff

CANBERRA — The Productivity Commission's recent research paper, "Productivity and the Structure of Employment", revealed that teenagers' percentage of the work force had fallen from 10.6% to 6.7%, while 20- to 24-year-olds had fallen from 14% to 11% of the work force.

Furthermore, part-time work now accounts for 25% of the work force, up from 16% in 1978. There was also an increase in the number of young people continuing post-secondary studies.

The paper reveals the lack of options for young people leaving school. It's hard to find work, and what there is is paid at youth wage rates. University is becoming increasingly expensive, and income support while studying is harder to get. As a result, more university students are either working part time or are on unemployment benefits.

In the face of this situation, the government is planning to make life still harder for young unemployed people.

The federal government is to force school leavers who are unemployed for more than three months to take part in an expanded work for the dole scheme. This is accompanied by a renewed offensive to blame the unemployed for unemployment.

Labor also foreshadowed a plan to attack the unemployed in an interview Kim Beazley gave to the Nine Network's Sunday program on July 25. "There's an awful lot of Australians out there who have security in that unemployment payment and that gives a mind-set to keep away from the work force", Beazley said.

In the Canberra Times on July 26, Labor's federal employment spokesperson, Martin Ferguson, was quoted as saying: "The Labor Party has clearly said work for the dole can go forward".

In the ACT, the Liberal government intends to put work for the dole participants into administrative and janitorial roles in schools. It has withdrawn its original plan for participants to help teach students numeracy and literacy.

The Australian Education Union has instructed its members not to take part in the scheme. Janitors, who are members of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, have rejected the proposal, as have administrative assistants, who are members of the Community and Public Sector Union.

The Primary Principals Association said any program that diverted attention from the needs of students "would not be welcomed". Problems include the scheme's compulsory nature, lack of accredited training and inadequate funding.

ACT education minister Bill Stefaniak described the government's work for the dole scheme as a "win-win" situation. Resistance activist Marcus Pabian responded: "Stefaniak is wrong. Surely the unemployed aren't winning, being paid starvation wages for work. Current workers may be replaced through the scheme, so what do they win? The only winners are the employers who access this forced labour.

"Young people need real jobs on livable wages. It's easier for the major parties to scapegoat young people and the unemployed than to tax the wealthy to pay for rebuilding social services."