Work for the Dole programs

Apr 25th, 2016

The national Work for the Dole program is facing criticism for failing to protect the safety of volunteer workers and not helping many find work suited to their skills.

Australian Unemployed Workers' Union president Owen Bennett is urging the abolition of the Work for the Dole scheme and has launched a petition on Change.Org raising safety concerns.

The campaign follows the death last week of 18-year-old Josh Park-Fing, who fell from a trailer towed by a tractor while he was on the Work for the Dole program in Toowoomba.

Mr Bennett said his organisation has received a number of reports of cases where the safety of workers in the program has been threatened. He said workers with chronic injuries had been forced to engage in strenuous work to avoid losing their Centrelink benefits.

Mick Smart, 30, of Newcastle, said he was expected to dig holes and push heavy wheelbarrows in February as a volunteer for a charity group, despite having problems with his back. He was assigned compulsory Work for the Dole after being for unemployed three years.

"I fell down a retaining wall and twisted my back pushing a wheelbarrow," he said.

"I've been told I have no access to WorkCover because technically I was not working: I was a Centrelink volunteer."

Mr Bennett said the government had failed to ensure adequate safety measures for people taking part in the Work for the Dole program.

"It is clear that the Coalition government can no longer guarantee the safety of workers at Work for the Dole sites."

He alleges unemployed workers have been threatened with the loss of unemployment benefits if they raise concerns about the safety of their Work for the Dole site.

"Work for the Dole is dangerous," he said. "It is a billion-dollar forced-labour program which does not help people into work. It must be abolished immediately."

ACTU president Ged Kearney said Mr Park-Fing's death should be fully investigated.

"The death of any worker, on any type of work site, is a tragedy and completely unacceptable," she said.

"As with any incident of this nature, a full investigation into the death of Mr Park-Fing is necessary. And given widespread concerns with the Work for the Dole, it must be done in context of the whole program, which the ACTU believes is deeply flawed on many levels."

A former employment services officer told Fairfax Media he had been pressured to place a woman with a back injury into a voluntary aged-care job under the Work for The Dole scheme.

"I experienced significant pressure to place a client of mine, who was clearly suited to certain industries around education who also had physical limitations, into aged-care voluntary roles," he said.

The former officer said the woman would have been better suited to a role as a volunteer in an education program for Indigenous people.

"It was about filling placements and meeting targets and not what was best for the individual to rebuild their career," he said.

He said a number of refugees were placed in cleaning jobs regardless of their qualification level.

A Work for the Dole supervisor in the NSW Hunter region told Fairfax Media that job providers were often inflexible and "like robots" in dealing with people with mental health and other social problems, including homelessness.

"The providers get a pool of money from the government and they don't seem to extend themselves to these people," the supervisor said.

"It is all about filling quotas."

Australian Greens spokeswoman on community services Senator Rachel Siewert also raised concerns.

"It does bring into question whether the Work for the Dole measure is providing adequate occupational health and safety for those forced to participate," she said.

A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said Mr Park-Fing's death was "a tragic event that should not happen in any Australian workplace".

"The government extends is deepest sympathies to the family and colleagues of the young man.

"The matter is currently being investigated by the relevant authorities and the government will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained."

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