Attacks on welfare recipients and welfare agencies have been made by both Liberal and Labor governments over the last 10 years.
The Rudd/Gillard Labor government decimated the disability support pension and the single parent pension. They also introduced the racist policy of income management, starting in indigenous communities then spreading it elsewhere.
The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Liberal government have since led the charge on demonising welfare recipients. They have attempted to implement drug testing, and are forcing unemployed workers to wait increasingly long periods before receiving a paltry income support payment.
This has all been happening alongside moves to privatise the welfare state by selling it off piecemeal to private for-profit companies, some of which are known to have committed heinous human rights abuses across the globe.
According to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), who represent Centrelink workers employed directly by the government, 2700 Centrelink jobs have been outsourced to four private companies: Stellar Asia Pacific, Serco, Concentrix Services and DataCom Connect.
This is after the government cut 2500 jobs.
The CPSU estimates that workers employed by Serco earn on average $14,000 a year less than Centrelink workers!
Whenever governments attempt to justify taking the axe to public services like Centrelink, they talk of “savings” and “returning the budget to surplus”. It seems the savings are coming straight from workers’ pockets while the private sector contractors rake in the profits.
The Serco contracts, for example, are worth $51.7 million over the next three years.
All the government are doing is transferring taxpayer funds to private for-profit companies. The services provided are generally poorer while workers’ wages and conditions are being undermined.
It is in the interests of all workers and welfare recipients to oppose these attacks. The CPSU needs to draw a line in the sand and refuse to allow any more jobs be outsourced to dodgy private companies.
The Australian Services Union (ASU), which represents Centrelink workers employed by private companies, should work together with the CPSU to build a joint campaign, demanding parity in pay, training and conditions.
This would improve the situation of those workers while also improving the services delivered to Centrelink recipients. Ultimately it would also be a disincentive for governments to outsource public services in the first place.
Despite what the politicians and their corporate media mates say, there is actually more than enough wealth in society to fund a comprehensive welfare system.
The Liberal’s 2017-18 budget included tens of billions of dollars in corporate handouts, in the form of business tax cuts, subsidies and government contracts. This is money that could be put to better use providing socially useful services such as welfare, healthcare, education and public housing.
The government’s coffers could be increased further if big business was taxed at higher levels, or indeed at all in some cases.
The trade unions can not hope to remain relevant if they refuse to fight against privatisation and the outsourcing of good paying jobs.
It was the workers movement in the first half of the 20th century that forced governments to provide a welfare state at all. We should not allow it to just be given away. We need to defend our gains, and ultimately extend them, to improve our living conditions.
The strong unions of the past that won reforms like the welfare state were influenced by basic socialist ideas. They were also prepared to use strikes and protests to ensure that a bigger share of the wealth was distributed to working people, and those thrown out of jobs through no fault of their own.
We need to reinject those ideas into our trade unions to stop the race to the bottom.
The Socialist Party says:
*No to job cuts and the outsourcing of public services
*Reverse all privatisations and reemploy the workers on union wages
*For all service delivery workers to receive the same wages, conditions and training
*Increase welfare payments by at least $250 a week
*No to income management and drug testing of welfare recipients
*For a trade union movement that fights for socialist policies including an expanded welfare state
By Socialist Party reporters