Amongst the raft of anti-worker counter reforms being proposed by the federal government are sweeping changes to welfare payments for unemployed people.
By Meredith Jacka, Socialist Party
Job service providers that purportedly assist unemployed people back into the work force through programs like ‘work for the dole’ will have much stricter guidelines, as will the Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP).
A new type of work for the dole scheme will apply to every recipient of the NewStart unemployment benefit under 50 who has been unemployed for more than 12 months.
Job seekers between 18 and 30 will have to undertake 25 hours of unpaid work a week for six months of every year that they are unemployed. They will also have to apply for 40 jobs a month to remain eligible for these meagre. This for a payment that keeps recipients below the poverty line.
As well as placing extra barriers in front of welfare seekers, the government is moving towards privatising a number of services. Services that have traditionally been run by either the state or charities are increasingly being handed over to private, for-profit companies.
For example, one of tenders for the new work for the dole scheme, Max Solutions, is owned by a company called Maximus that made US$1.7 billion in revenue last year by providing government services.
Similar changes are being made to the RJCP, which will require unemployed workers in remote communities to undertake 25 hours work per week, across five days, 52 weeks a year. People will risk losing payments if they miss even one day of work!
Workers at several remote job service providers have highlighted that these changes will have a huge impact on the community. Unemployed people will be forced into slave-labour conditions. In some areas up to 50% of the staff at the job service providers may themselves become unemployed.
These regressive changes are a clear attack on people’s rights, particularly those of young and aboriginal people.
The changes to the RJCP are part of the federal government’s response to mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s report into indigenous employment. Forrest wants to see mining corporations provided with cheap pools of disenfranchised labour.
Through changes like these, the federal government is preparing the ground to completely dismantle the welfare state. Recently released figures show that the unemployment rate is now at 6.1%.
The number of people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more has doubled since the onset of the global financial crisis. On top of this, youth unemployment rates are the highest since 1998.
Ultimately these figures benefit big business by ensuring there is a reserve army of unemployed workers. This allows bosses to drive down wages. Having more people compete for jobs makes it easier to refuse pay rises and improvements to conditions.
Industrial action by job service provider staff and workers in the Department of Human Services, combined with community action by the unemployed, could push back these changes – especially if an unemployed workers union was set up.
The mainstream debate about the federal budget and welfare changes is focused on how to force ordinary people to pay to get the budget back to surplus. Whether it’s through cuts to spending or increasing income tax, the end result remains the same – ordinary people are being asked to pay for a crisis that they didn’t create.
There is more than enough wealth in society to ensure that those who can not work – be it due to sickness, disability, old age or economic crisis – are provided for. In order to capture that wealth, we will have to fight.