Moreland votes No to Work for the Dole

[By Dave Holmes] Moreland council became one of the first organisations to vote not to participate in the federal Work for the Dole scheme on October 7. The scheme was expanded in July to job-seekers aged under 50 who have been receiving welfare payments for more than six months.

Sue Bolton, a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland council moved a motion for the council not to participate in the Work for the Dole scheme.

Initially, ALP Mayor Meghan Hopper and Moreland CEO Nerina di Lorenzo were going to rule that the motion couldn’t be debated because it related to “staffing”. The Local Government Act doesn’t allow councillors to vote on operational matters.
Bolton argued that there is no way that Work for the Dole can be considered “staffing” unless the council was planning to replace permanent jobs at full pay with Work for the Dole participants on Newstart Allowance.

In the end, a majority of councillors voted to allow the motion be debated.. The motion for Moreland to not to participate in the scheme passed with the ALP Right councillors Lambros Tapinos and Mayor Meghan Hopper, Liberal Party councillor Rob Thompson and DLP-aligned independent John Kavanagh voting against and supporting Work for the Dole.

Bolton argued that Work for the Dole is a type of indentured labour because it is compulsory and for only a token amount of pay. Work for the Dole represents a threat to the jobs of people who work in local government and the community sector, by replacing some of the roles typically filled by paid workers with unpaid labourers.

Several studies, including some commissioned by the federal government, show that Work for the Dole doesn’t assist long-term unemployed to get jobs. University of Melbourne researchers Jeff Borland and Yi-Ping Tseng recorded the experiences of 860 Newstart recipients aged 18-24 taking part in Work for the Dole in 1997-1998. They found “quite large significant adverse effects of participation in Work for the Dole” for job seekers. Unemployed people who were required to do Work for the Dole were significantly less likely to be able to find work than job seekers who did not participate.

Australian Department of Employment data shows that for job-seekers in 2013 only 19.8% of participants in Work for the Dole schemes found a full-time or part-time job within three months. Work for the Dole has a poorer track-record than other pathways to work, such as training.

Being forced into Work for the Dole to keep your Centrelink payment makes life even harder for people. It takes up time that would be better spent studying, training or looking for paid work. There is also evidence that employers discriminate against people who put Work for the Dole on their resume.

Solutions to unemployment require an acknowledgement of the lack of jobs that exist. According to ABS date, in September 2014 there were 156,000 job vacancies in Australia. At the same time there are 750,000 people out of work. If you factor in the high number of under-employed, an estimated 920,000 in July 2014, there are 10 job seekers competing for each job vacancy in Australia.

We need real job creation, instead of expensive, failed approaches that blame job-seekers for things outside their control.