Work for the dole

Work for the dole is a very, very contentious issue in Australia. Let us make no mistake here, there are valid arguments for and against, despite what both “sides” have to say.

People on the NewStart allowance are in many ways like asylum seekers: they are a demographic a proportion of the population loves to hate, labelling them “dole bludgers”.

I was once unemployed for five months and my husband lived for a time with no working rights. We can both say that doing something, anything, during those dark days saved our sanity. My husband did volunteer work and I did casual work for the employment service provider I was registered with (so I actually received very little NewStart at all). I know I would have been in a very dark place had I not done that casual work.

Right now we have  a Miss 19 who would LOVE the opportunity of an internship to learn some basic office skills and add experience to her resume. She hates being at home and I see the stress it is causing her.

Getting out of the house and having contact with other people is so very necessary, being able to actually feel useful is so necessary, in our personal experience. Would work for the dole really achieve these for job seekers?

I’m also a tax payer. I firmly believe a good society supports and helps those in our society needing help and support. I find some of the cuts and reviews proposed by the current Australian government totally unacceptable. I also have no problem with the basic principle of people doing something for their NewStart allowance HOWEVER I also have major concerns around how such a principle is implemented. Principle and practicality are two different things.

Realistically, if an employer is getting a job done satisfactorily by a job seeker and the employer needs that job done, why not simply employ the job seeker at the going rate for the job? If we don’t have enough jobs for job seekers, then there won’t be any roles for the job seekers to undertake in a work for the dole capacity, one would think. The concept of work for the dole MUST NOT be implemented as a way for business to acquire cheap labour. I note the Government has stated it wants to ensure the work for the dole scheme does not remove incentives for business to provide access to paid work, stating it would see not-for-profit organisations as the appropriate recipients of the work provided by the job seekers. This is fine, but the risk of creating an ever-shrinking job market to take advantage of government funded labour has to be guarded against. Of course, less taxpayers from a shrinking labour market would mean less general revenue to fund the work for the dole so it would become self-defeating.

The practicalities for the actual job seekers must be realistically assessed. Let’s take the situation of the single parents who have been recently moved to NewStart by virtue of their youngest child having reached eight years of age. It may very well be that the parent could benefit from a well structured scheme, learning new skills and perhaps landing a permanent role, however who is going to fit the bill for all this? The travel, the before and after school care, the additional clothes required to go to work? These costs certainly cannot be meet out of the NewStart allowance: most recipients struggle to keep a phone connected (mandatory for job hunting) or feed the kids. Extra expenses would be an unacceptable, in fact ridiculous, burden. This also assumes that rearing children is not work. News flash, parliamentarians, raising children is BLOODY HARD WORK and I don’t see the point of trying to force a single parent into the workforce when that parent is already trying to do the work of TWO parents as it is.

Supporting a single parent to study while the kids are young would be a far better option, I think.

If the job seeker is working for the dole, how much time do they then have available for actual job seeking and attending interviews? Let’s assume for the moment the job seeker is expected to work half the week and job hunt the other half. He/she is rostered to work Mondays, Wednesdays and four hours on Friday. Late Thursday afternoon an employer calls to schedule an interview for 8:30 am Friday morning. Will the regulations be such that the job seeker is able, without penalty, to give priority to that job interview even though they may not be able to notify the work for the dole organisation of their absence until after the event?

I have concerns about the compliance requirements for all this as well. I know when I was job hunting the paperwork was a pain. I managed it because I am a white-collar worker, but I saw many job seekers legitimately struggle with it. It is fine for bureaucrats to design all these compliance systems, but do they ever consult with the people who actually have to use them? What will the costs of managing compliance be? Will this just be more wasting of the taxpayers’ money implementing a bureaucracy to manage the compliance?

Dole recipients would be asked to take part in civic maintenance, cleaning streets and parks, as occurred in the scheme’s first inception.


Not a lot of training for future employment involved in rubbish collection, I have to say. I would prefer to see the “work” for the dole involving, where suitable, training courses to prepare people for paid employment. Of course, my husband saw many students at TAFE who really didn’t want to be there, some up to their third failed course, all at taxpayers’ expense. As a taxpayer, I’m not happy about that situation either. The supporters talk about teaching people the “soft skills” such as dressing for work and being on time. Fancy dressing required for sweeping streets? Most will be wearing PPE (see discussion below) if what I read is anything to go by.

I remember some years ago watching interviews with people on the dole. The attitudes of some illustrated exactly where the “dole bludger” label came from. I am sure the program must have looked really hard to find the worst examples they possibly could. I am not sure any work for the dole or study for the dole or any other scheme will help those people. The thing to remember here is those people are NOT the majority. The vast majority of people of NewStart DO NOT want to be there. Any scheme should be looking at the BEST ways to get people who don’t want to be on NewStart into real employment and I am not convinced cleaning streets is the best approach.

Do we have jobs available to employ every unemployed person right this minute? If we don’t (and I don’t believe we do) we can hardly blame the unemployed for being unemployed or penalise them for being unemployed for “too long”.

What of occupational health & safety considerations? The costs of work accidents are high. The risks of accidents involving untrained volunteer staff would be high, so there is a need to train the job seekers in safe work procedures (gardening equipment can be dangerous). Who is footing that cost? The not-for-profit organisation or the government? Who is providing the Personal Protective Equipment?

What of the health and fitness criteria? People may be fit and able to do an office job, for example, but they may not be able to undertake physical work.

According to a report in The Age, the Wage Connect scheme (a completely different scheme) has proven quite successful.. Why not expand a successful scheme?

”Nearly half the participants in Wage Connect were in paid employment at the end of the six-month program.”

Am I talking myself out of my own belief in the basic principle? You see, I believe in the basic principle of euthanasia. I do believe an individual should be able to make that decision. Again, the principle and the practicality are two different things. I don’t trust the human race to not take advantage of euthanasia; not yet, at least. Similarly, I am not convinced that work for dole schemes can be implemented to the BENEFIT of the job seeker. That any scheme benefits the job seeker is the only valid test of the worth or otherwise.

I cannot, absolutely cannot, condone a combination of policies that forces single parents of children back into the workforce but at the same time wants to pay such high parental leave to produce more children. Let’s concentrate on educating and employing the children we already have rather than paying people huge amounts to have more. I’ve previously given my opinion of the PPL scheme.

If any work for the dole scheme were implemented, a few considerations are:

  • Education to be given preference over work
  • Single parents should not be forced back into the work force
  • Employment availability must be taken into consideration
  • Any scheme MUST NOT cost the job seeker one cent
  • Any scheme must not impinge on job hunting efforts
  • NewStart must be increased to adequately support job hunting efforts
  • Compliance requirements must NOT be burdensome

If Abbott wants to make sure we don’t “rush” amending the constitution to ensure recognition of Aboriginals, may I suggest there is even less reason to rush a work for the dole scheme.

It also seems as if this government has a real habit of just recycling Howard government policies. Tow the boats and work for the dole (didn’t work last time) are two examples. A little short on innovation, perhaps?

Edit: The work for the dole is supposed to focus on young people. Yet it doesn’t address the many young people who don’t qualify for NewStart as it is determined their parents can support them. Is the solution for them nepotism? I thought Abbott just made that a no-no?

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20 comments on “Work for the dole

  1. […] unemployed will all be gainfully employed in a Work for the Dole scheme so they can be productive members of society. Ironing is one job that could be done by the […]


  2. […] doing something to receive the welfare payments, I have major concerns about the practical implementation of any such scheme. I also can’t see many people being able to work until they are 70, other than some rather […]


  3. Why can’t the Abbott govt simply employ them ? Allow them an actual job. I mean, apparently there’s work that needs doing, as well as people to recruit, train, insure and organise the target group of unemployed. To my thinking, a job and fair wage is the obvious way to reduce unemployment. No need to stigmatise people with what looks like community work order conditions when they could be allowed the dignity of a proper job.


    • I’m not sure the government employing the unemployed is workable. These jobs aren’t government positions, they are NFP organisations. Public service jobs that are not necessarily needed would need to be created and that is not a long term solution as then taxes would need to increase to pay for the extra jobs.

      We need to increase employment opportunities in the private sector and improve the skills or retrain/cross train the job seekers.


  4. “What of the health and fitness criteria? People may be fit and able to do an office job, for example, but they may not be able to undertake physical work.”
    I agree with this, of course. However some people may not be able to do office work but are fit enough to do cleaning jobs. For instance why not employ suitable people to do street cleaning? Or picking up rubbish? If this work needs doing, someone should be employed to do it at a proper wage. Can’t this be a permanent job? And shouldn’t the taxpayer be willing to pay for jobs like this?
    Maybe it is different if it is genuinely only a seasonal job. Then this work for the dole scheme may be appropriate under certain conditions, namely if it is a public work scheme and the dole recipient gets paid a bit of extra money. Also he should be employed under this scheme for a limited time only, let’s say for no more than three months and during this time he or she does not have to look for a proper job. Under no circumstances should a business owner be allowed to employ a dole recipient as a means to avoid paying proper wages. If a business owner needs a job done he should need to have to pay proper wages for having the job done. If he is not willing to pay proper wages he is the bludger, not the dole recipient!


    • It is a worry, isn’t it Uta? Thank you so much for your thoughtful contribution. It is interesting all comments express concerns.

      It was questioned today on Twitter whether the proposal is in contravention of the constitution, but it is unclear whether that argument would fly. We will have to wait and see.


  5. Where is the Goverment going to get these jobs from, and who are they going to take the positions from?..Living in a Rural area, it is so hard to get a position and I know young ones who got excited that they where asked to come in for a work trial. Then after working all day for free, are told sorry, love your work but can not put anyone on at the moment. How upsetting for ones psyche is that?..

    My 32yr old daughter has finished a counselling course and a university course but can not get a cetificate for either as she cannot get a field placement to finish, seems impossible. Lindsey also has low level Asbergers, looking people in the eye is very hard for her, but is very slowly learning..

    Lindsey was on newstart for 9 months, it did not a thing for her. Waste of taxpayers money having organisations that are suppose to help people to get a job. They do very little if anything for them. After 6 months, I went and had a talk with her case worker all without her knowledge to give worker an understanding of Lindsey. It was very clear he had not even picked up anything about Lindsey in all that time.

    We are lucky at the moment, Lindsey is doing some paid computer work at home. Did not have to have a one to one interview it was all done on computer. Problem is it will not always be available. What will happen then? as my husband will have to retire soon We will find it hard having to provide for her.

    Oh well it will be okay. I am sure Mr Abbott will make sure she gets a job!!!…


    • I really worry about unpaid trials and internships, even though I encourage Miss 19 to apply for them. For the very reasons you highlight. Why take someone for a trial if you have no position?

      I understand the concept of community work, but if it does nothing to benefit the job seeker, what has been achieved?

      Rural areas don’t have a lot of NFP organisations, so how will that work?

      Totally unconvinced so far of the merits.


  6. Why is the government even looking at re-introducing a program that didnt work very well first time around.

    As you rightly say Robyn, there are two sides to this. Back in Howard’s day, my son found him self out of work when a business closed down. No fault of his but he soon found himself caught up in the entire “work for the dole” farce. He was allocated a “job” gardening at a private school. After 13 weeks he was replaced with another volunteer. During this time, a full time paid groundsman lost his job. When I took this up with the school, I was assured it had nothing to do with having volunteers there. He was a married man with kids, my son was single & living at home…the injustice of this made me angry. My son returned to study…supported by us not the government.

    The second issue is that since we have had conservative governments, more people are loosing their jobs…both in and out of government. I believe, most people want to work. We have had 5 months of “open for business” but no evidence of how this is leading to job creation. Turn on the news and we hear of more job cuts. The key surely is job creation with a focus on education and skill development. We are blaming people for not being prepared to move to get a job…how about incentives for industry to move to areas of high unemployment. Some regional communities have been really hard hit when business decides to fold the tent and move.

    Also agree re the comments about single parents..give them a decent payment to lift them out of poverty. Another group of people who are stigmatised and blamed for the circumstances of their lives. Australian politicans are amongst the highest paid in the world. Maybe they could lead by example and take a salary cut….mmmmnnn I hear the laughter now!


    • Your son’s experience is terrible! It seems reasonably clear the full-time employee lost their job because of the availability of government funded labour. I can understand your taking it up with the school.

      I can’t see any skill development in collecting rubbish, I really can’t. As proposed, it just seems punative. I don’t get it.


  7. Another great article Robyn.
    Upon hearing the announcement of potentially work-for-the-dole working in the age-care industry had me having the thought: if work-for-the-dole is to exist should it:
    a) provide opportunities for the unemployed to acquire the skills and experience necessary for the next job, or
    b) provide NFPs (and businesses) a free pool of labour which may be exploited.
    The later (b) concerns me. Forcing somebody to do something (such as work in age-care) does not, in turn, guarantee that person a position. There may be employment shortages in the age-care industry but that doesn’t mean, in my opinion, they should be able to tap a pool of unemployed people to fill the gap. If there are people who are unemployed who would like to work in age-care it may be a different story, providing the scheme supports those people getting the skills and experience necessary to attain a position (point a). That doesn’t, by the way, excuse the age-care industry from considering what is it about the industry that is making it hard to recruit!
    The headlines, the politicians, always like to focus on the minority who do actually want to never work and live off hand-outs. A lack of a ‘work ethic’ is often noted. Yes, people with that attitude exist, but they are not the majority of unemployed, and further some people with that attitude are gainfully employed but work the system and can’t get fired. In my opinion policy should focus on the benefit of the majority. If work-for-the-dole is to be there, its focus should be in my opinion on preparing the person for work, providing the skills and expertise they (to date) have not been able to attain. It should also not be done in such a way that those on Newstart because of government and/or bureaucratic “ease of administration” (e.g. Single Parents) are forced to participate.


    • I agree they are not the majority Paul. I can understand compulsory literacy and numeracy classes, for example. I could even accept grooming and styling hints. But collecting rubbish?

      Do they adequate WorkCover? If injured and on NewStart what rate would they be covered for?

      Way too many unanswered questions for my liking.


      • Yep, collecting rubbish is a great example. If that is a job that needs to be done why aren’t the councils\local government advertising positions. I agree there are way to many questions to be answered. The WorkCover angle a particular concern. Who is the ’employer’ in work-for-the-dole in the event of any incident. Who is responsible for insurance etc. Certainly an area of policy development to keep an eye on.


      • They have assured everyone people working in old people’s homes, for example, would be doing tasks like gardening, not patient care for which they are nit qualified. So I see WorkCover as very important.

        Even cleaning in say hospitals requires a particular skill and carries hazards (tripping, slipping).


  8. “Education to be given preference over work”

    The Conservative Governments around Australia are busy lifting TAFE fees, so how is somebody on a Government allowance supposed to pay for a course? Many people have already run down their savings (Centrelink won’t pay you until you’ve used up most of your savings) and can’t afford the up-front costs.

    Unfortunately, education is this country is seen as a business, instead of an investment in people.


  9. I have 2 major concerns with this (well actually I have way more than two…) though most importantly is this did not work the first time round?

    Like Jan we also had experience with a client that was a supposed non-profit job assistance group. It was the biggest rort I have ever seen in my life. How any funds actually ended up trickling down to assist anyone getting a job, not just some cheap labor for certain big businesses was a miracle. The blase way this business operated (and was a massive business) led me to believe that it was pretty much common practice, so if similar types of so-called non-profits will be set up or expanded as per last time, it is more a kick back to these organisations, many which are church run, than an actual real benefit to the taxpayer as in getting an unemployed person back to work.

    My second issue is with Single Parents as well. I live in an area where so many of them are already struggling with the Newstart rubbish. It may be all well & good in a city to try to put these people in menial jobs (I will not start on education etc you covered that well Robyn) but you need to have public transport, before & after school care etc. to be able to do that? We have 2 state schools in my area, NEITHER have before or after school care. There is one public afterschool facility where kids can catch a bus from school to (just a normal bus) and it closes at 5.30? So how is that going to work? Are work for the dole participants who are parents going to be given an allowance to only work school hours? Or will the Govt give them an allows to pay for private child care? Or will it be as per Howard where we have even more latchkey kids roaming the streets getting into trouble & tossers than complaining about not enough parental attention? My area also has next to know public transport? To get to the next closest area which has a larger business district will take you 50mins on the bus (if you are lucky) and there are hardly any around, so how to get to & from a job, plus look after your kids with this situation?

    It didn’t work last time, it won’t work this time, it will just demonise people more.


    • Noely, all good points. I didn’t address the transport issues as they are so diverse around the nation. Here is good, but I know a lot of places are not.

      The latchkey kids point is very valid as far as the single parents are concerned.

      The whole pseudo employment agency thing is just weird from my experience. It is really a network set up to monitor compliance. The one I worked for did the best they could, the staff were very genuine and caring, but I know not all are like that. So much of their time was eaten up with compliance requirements, even back then, reducing the time they could spend helping the job seekers.


  10. Spot on, Robyn. I was the financial advisor for some Not For Profit organisations during Work For the Dole Mark 1. While I saw some programs that had benefits to the organisation and the clients, I cringe when I remember some of the demeaning and meaningless tasks allocated under the scheme. One poor participant spent 13 weeks doing repetitive tasks, days removing whiteout from CD cases, reapplying & rewriting the reference number for example. No worthwhile or new skills there, no sense of achievement from useful work, no genuine advantage for the NPO, indeed no value adding there at all except to the coffers.

    It was generally a very nice profit making enterprise. Although well meaning in most cases, the organisations were amateurs with little or generally no recognised training skills. The programs were designed by the NPO staff, many of whom were volunteers themselves, and while they needed approval from the department, there was little quality control or oversight.

    In principle versus in practice summarises perfectly why this is a poor idea.


    • Thank you Jan, for sharing your practical experience of the original version.

      Working casually for the provider that I did, I saw both the best and the worst. I saw the people who didn’t stick to their appointments and so on, but I also saw why. The frustration, how demoralised they were, the crappy jobs on offer from employers that thought they could get the cheapest staff from the Centrelink providers. Often times the NewStart people were constantly tired from lack of good nutrition. I could NOT have survived on NewStart alone if I had not been living with a family member at the time. Even with the casual work it was damned hard to keep the phone paid for, have the car available for interviews, clothes, hair, etc and buy proper food.

      I later worked in a company that employed one who clearly did not want to work. His way of ensuring he didn’t keep a job was to ensure his body odour could not be tolerated in the workplace. Such cases are VERY much the minority, in my experience and it frustrates me that we penalise the many for the few.


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