‘A danger is we stay stuck in a new normal where unemployment rates stay high, people who have jobs see their incomes go up, businesses make big profits. But they’re learned to do more with less, and so they don’t hire.’
— Barack Obama
Jobs in America have been a constant talking point since unemployment reached a 25-year high of 8.1 per cent during the height of the global financial crisis. Fast forward eight years and that figure has dropped to 5.7 per cent, with a minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. Compare that to Australia, which has one of the highest minimum wages [$16.87 an hour] in the Western world and enjoys a high income threshold of $133,000 annually.
Sounds like a great place to live and work, until you read ABS stats showing Australia’s jobless rate in 2015 is now at a 12-year high, peaking at 6.4 per cent in January. Once envied as the land of tomorrow [circa 1948], milk and honey  turned land of opportunity [2005-12], we began falling from grace circa 2013-15 to rank along with the US as the land of missed opportunity!
Is there any relief in sight? Maybe, if former head of Mission Australia Patrick McClure’s “wide-ranging” Coalition-commissioned review into the nation’s $150 billion welfare system” gets the green light. His plan to swap the current 20 income support payments and 55 supplementary payments with just five basic payments [as well as recommendations to tighten the eligibility for disability support] is aimed at finding ways for the government to save money and encourage more people to return to work.
Great idea in theory given there are no jobs for people to return to. Monday night’s Four Corner’s program highlighted major flaws in how Australians can get back into the jobs’ game. It revealed “a system open to abuse where the unemployed have become a commodity; where some agencies bend the rules and others break them”.
Unemployment is now big business, suggests Four Corners in response to the government’s annual spend of $1.3 billion on welfare-to-work scheme, Jobs Services Australia, which is failing due to “80 per cent of claims having some sort of manipulation on them”.
How can this happen amid regular government audits? Information provided by an agency whistleblower exposes “shocking evidence of fraud, manipulation, falsified paperwork, and the recycling of the unemployed through temporary jobs”. Even former job agency employees have admitted to “crucial internal records [being] adjusted before government checks take place”. Apparently hours are bumped up, wages inflated, and in many cases, vital evidence to support claims from the taxpayer have been falsified.
It’s compelling television to watch but its content could be just the tip of the ice-berg. It seems job agencies are not the only groups getting in on the government-funding subsidy act, so are adult education centres.
One student RoamingRAVE spoke to revealed they’d been pushed into a course they weren’t eligible for. They were allegedly told if they lied about their situation they could do the course free thanks to a government-funded “career jump start program”.
Expressing they didn’t want to do anything illegal, the student was admonished by the course co-ordinator who replied “you’ll never get a job with that attitude”! Trouble is, even if they were prepared to lie, the training institution needed eight students to fill the bill to secure subsidised funding to run the program aimed at showing job seekers how to “overcome barriers to getting work”. It currently had two students but interviews were still taking place.
This was one of five government-backed programs that particular institution could vie for funds if it could find enough eligible job seekers to attend. And of course, that was the name of the game. No matter that a particular course didn’t suit a student, they were being “persuaded” it was the only option to help them find job opportunities.
So if there is so many people unemployed, why aren’t they lining up for free study pathways that could help them get back into the workforce? Our student suggests it’s the course content that isn’t relevant to the skills needed to seek work. Further, it would take the job seeker out of the job-seeking game three days a week for six months. What potential employer would be interested in hiring someone based on that restriction?
It presents a catch-22, and it would seem just like job agencies and charities depicted in the Four Corners program, education institutions in Australia have opted to join “profit-takers making a buck from Australia’s jobless”.
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer and blogger for hire. Fill out the form to send any tip-offs for articles. All names are withheld.