Welfare Notes – “Try before you buy”, Centrelink delays, and other fun

1. “Try before you buy”

Abbott reckons that unemployed workers are there to “try before you buy”.

In the past, the idea that Work for the Dole only occurs in the non-profit sector has been key to maintaining the legitimacy of the scheme. Of course, in practice the scheme has been used to displace paid employment in a whole range of settings.

The business lobby wants its cut of any free labour going around, in February the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) announced that Work for the Dole “needs” to be expanded to the private sector:

Australia’s peak business body wants to expand the work for the dole scheme, allowing the private sector to use young unemployed workers who would be paid for from the public purse as a way of addressing youth unemployment.

At the time I wrote that:

Forced charity work is ultimately just the wedge by which the government gets the infrastructure of forced labour ready for wider application … [but] ACCI probably jumped the gun a bit … their friends in the government are probably smart enough to realize that [W4D in the private sector] is not yet palatable”.

Oh what a difference three months can make.

The federal budget includes $18 million funding for a new initiative that would “allow” unemployed workers to do four weeks unpaid work for a prospective employer whilst receiving the dole. Tony Abbott has touted the scheme as an opportunity for employers to “try before you buy”.

Great. A four week trial shift “for the dole”. On an aside, unpaid trial shifts are meant to be illegal, as the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website explains:

Any period beyond what is reasonably required to demonstrate the skills required for the job must be paid at the appropriate minimum rate of pay. If an employer wants to further assess a candidate’s suitability, they could employ the person as a casual employee and/or for a probationary period and pay them accordingly for all hours worked.

Also, there is this thing called the minimum wage. If unemployed workers in Abbott’s “try before you buy” scheme are doing a standard 38 hour week for their dole payment, they’ll be making a grand $6.74 an hour.

2. Centrelink short staffed… duh.

Centrelink is short staffed, who’d have thunk it. The Age reported earlier this week that:

Centrelink has ordered hundreds of public servants around the country to drop everything for two days and answer phones in a desperate bid to make its performance look better.

This comes after a National Audit Office report that found that last year 26 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered. Again from The Age:

Australians spent 143 years waiting in vain to speak to Centrelink in 2013-2014, before simply hanging up, the auditors calculated.

About 13.7 million calls did not even make it to the point of being put on hold, after they were blocked or received a “busy signal”.

Another 13 million of the calls that did manage to get into the system were “abandoned”, with the callers getting tired of waiting to speak to an operator, the Audit of the Department of Human Service’s “Smart Centre” system found.

Centrelink telling their staff to drop everything and get on the phones will merely shuffle the short staffing problem about.

Elsewhere at Centrelink, the processing of Austudy and Youth Allowance claims has taken months:

Most universities close for the mid-year break next month but many students who applied to Centrelink for financial support at the start of the year are yet to receive a payment.

Student advocates say the government welfare agency refuses to provide a timeline for Austudy, Youth Allowance and Abstudy applications …

“It’s across the board,” said Stuart Martin, chairman of the national Student Financial Advisers Network. “This is significantly worse than previous years. I’ve heard cases of [students waiting] even 12 and 14 weeks.”

3. Also on Centrelink…

Centrelink staff held a one hour stop work on Monday (17 May) in response to an ongoing pay dispute affecting 160,000 public servants. Their EBA expired on June 30 last year and the government seems intent on forcing public servants to take a pay cut:

“Workers are being asked to cop a massive cut to rights and conditions, in return for low annual pay offers of between zero per cent and one per cent a year that leave real wages going backwards.

This is just another part of the government’s cuts agenda, for this reason alone welfare claimants should support industrial action by Centrelink staff resisting the governments attacks. Cut backs and understaffing are making life unbearable for Centrelink workers and welfare claimants alike, perhaps it’s time to raise the demand: “Fair pay for Centrelink workers and fair payments for clients!”

New Matilda has good coverage of the industrial dispute.

4. AUU vs Max Employment

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union launched a petition calling on the Employment Minister to take action against Max Employment:

Despite the discovery of damning allegations against Max Employment, the Abbott Government has failed to take any legal action against the US-owned billion dollar multi-national corporation. In fact, the Government recently rewarded Max Employment with an $800 million 5-year contact.

You can watch the 4 Corners episode AUU is referring to here, it’s damning stuff.

Unfortunately it seems corporate profiteers from human misery are quick to reach for the lawyers when criticized:

Message posted on the AUU Facebook page shortly after the Max Employment petition went up.

Message posted on the AUU Facebook page shortly after the Max Employment petition went up.

If that’s not a good enough reason to sign the AUU petition, I don’t know what is!

5. Yet another crackdown

Who’s the bigger crook, a corporate entity that avoids millions of dollars in tax, or a welfare recipient who under reports their income? Corporate tax avoidance is big business:

A third of ASX200 companies have an effective tax rate of less than 10%. … If the largest Australian listed companies paid taxes at the statutory corporate tax rate of 30%, it would produce an additional A$8.4 billion in annual revenues.

There was rhetoric from the treasurer about corporate tax avoidance in the budget, which rings a bit hollow when you learn that the ATO has shed 4000 staff, is shedding more, and:

There are also questions about whether the Tax Office is pursuing big companies as vigorously as it used to. The number of taxpayers The Tax Office views as high risk has diminished, although the Tax Office refuses to tell Fairfax Media how many large corporates are now in the highest-risk category, claiming the numbers have not been finalised.

The CPSU survey found just under half of those surveyed think budget cuts have affected decisions on whether to litigate. Comments included that “more settlements are occurring”, and “current ATO policy is for staff to look at alternative dispute resolution and settlements rather than litigate”.

Apparently there is no money to chase corporate tax dodgers, but plenty to hound the unemployed, pensioners and students over income reporting:

The Federal Government is set to announce a crackdown on welfare cheats by appointing a senior police officer to lead the attack on welfare fraud.

Human Services Minister Marise Payne said the Government is working with the Australian Federal Police to appoint an officer to lead a special taskforce.

The taskforce will target people who have undeclared income, with pensioners and people who receive the Newstart allowance and disability support to face income audits.

Beating up on the poor, letting rich mates go free. It’s business as usual here in Team Australia.



  1. Ralph BennettMay 27, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    The price ( conditions and rate of pay ) of labour, like any economic commodity, is dependent on it’s scarcity.
    The right wing wants to flood the place with labour , to keep wages low, speculate on real estate and increase the number of consumers.
    This diverts capital from productive investment in education, research ,manufacturing and high tech exports.
    Time for balanced migration ( 80,000 out then 80,000 in ) and balanced fertility. From ABS data , our birthrate is double our death rate.
    Population growth trashes the poor.
    The CES is being overwhelmed with under and unemployed. Anarchists are quite capable to be environmentally and economically literate.
    The World has changed.

  2. inglourious_basterdMay 30, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Funny how “try before you buy” doesn’t apply to politicians.

    Tony would have been in big trouble.

  3. an anonymous anarchistMay 31, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Ralph, you’re insane and/or not an anarchist. Anarchists are very much against all borders and immigration control, for a variety of reasons. E.g. Borders and immigration control necessitate government (which anarchists are against). I was going to write a lot more, but you probably won’t read it. In conclusion, you suck.

    • Ralph BennettJune 3, 2015 at 6:51 am

      With open borders how many people would you like in a short period of time ?
      20 million would be a start.
      If you have ever worked in unskilled occupations and seen desperate people bargain there hourly rate down so they get the job, then your comments don’t stand rational scrutiny.


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