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See you in 13 weeks.

Yesterday I joined the great wave of underemployed and unemployed Australians who are seeking financial assistance from the Australian Government to find a job.

Having tapped out my savings – after being made redundant in November – I needed to apply to Centrelink for New Start assistance. It’s not as arduous as it used to be but going through the process there are definitely flaws in the matrix.

The one flaw I truly have the most problem is the job network provider scheme. In 1998 then Prime Minister, John “Privatise everything not nailed to the floor” Howard sold off the Federal Employment agency the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES), replacing the national network of job agencies with private agencies.

While privatisation isn’t necessarily a major problem the system as it exists today is.

I thought I’d run you through my experience yesterday.

Prior to yesterday, I arranged a meeting with a Job Network Provider via Centrelink. This meeting was mandatory and in support of my claim for ‘benefits’. It was no big deal and I was happy enough to go along. Into my bag yesterday I packed an updated copy of my resume, my portfolio of events and conferences and the folder I had containing certificates and diplomas. I wasn’t sure what would be needed so decided it was better to be safe than to be sorry.

I arrived approximately 15  minutes early. It was much too hot to be standing downstairs so I went up to the office. The office was rather large with wonderful views across the top of Gosford CBD and out to Brisbane Waters. It’s painted a soft blue, the carpet is industrial and scattered around the room are pods with seating for four people, along with laptops and headphones. A boardroom is located on the left-hand side as you enter and runs the length of the room. On the far right-hand side of the room four desks, each seating several young women line the windows. It sort of reminded me of the images of a typist pool you get in movies made in the 40s and 50s.

People of varying ages – although mostly under 25 – sit around the place, some on chairs in the waiting area, others at the tables using the laptops. The room, for all the physical bodies sitting in it, was silent. Miserable young people, one with an equally miserable looking Mother, going through the motions of introducing themselves, job hunting, and just turning up to get their payment approved. It’s honestly a rather depressing environment.

True, the people there were there to find work but good God, even a radio playing 2GO or SeaFM in the background would do something to liven the place up a bit. As I waited for my case worker to call me, I happened to glance around the room. On the wall to my right were large brightly coloured posters of various industry sectors and the jobs that fit into them. I hadn’t seen those since my last careers class in High School.

Eventually, I was called over to meet my case worker. She was a very nice lady, no idea what her name was. We discussed the fact I’d brought a resume with me which seemed to surprise her. We discussed the meetings, how they were mandated by the Australian Government and were a requirement to attend. We discussed what would occur if I didn’t attend. We discussed my experiences, my career background and I signed some papers.

We shook hands and I got up and left. All in all the meeting took less than 8 minutes. As the meeting was drawing to a close my new case worker said:

Given your experiences I’m pretty sure you’ll have no trouble getting a job. If you do have difficulty though I’ll see you again in 13 weeks. Once you’ve been job hunting for 13 weeks if you can’t find something, you come back to us for more focused assistance.”

13 weeks. Not a smidge of help or focused assistance, or anything else for 13 weeks.

I have to admit I wasn’t surprised, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone through this experience, but I was annoyed. The Australian Government rabbits on about how important it is to have a job, how it’s dignified, how it builds your self-esteem and your character.

Every week some ratbag newspaper is running front page articles screeching about Dole Bludgers and the Unemployed. What I don’t understand is why the Government and it’s paid consultants from the private sector are doing nothing to help people in the first 13 weeks of unemployment.

I’m not saying unemployed people need to be babied or have their hand held but I am saying leaving people to sit on their butts for 13 weeks doesn’t help them find employment. With unemployment rising to the highest levels in 20 years in this country, it’s time the government did something to create paid employment. Not tax cuts, not trickle down bullshit economic theory, not a three-word slogan already forgotten now the election is done but put an actual policy in place to support the creation and sustainability of long-term employment.

Places like the company I went to yesterday are being paid tens of millions of dollars by our Government and yet don’t seem to have to do anything to earn that money. The one thing my case worker stressed repeatedly yesterday was if I get a job in the first 13 weeks I must call and tell them so they know and can notify Centrelink.

Why? I can notify Centrelink myself. Why do I need to call a person I’ve met for less than 8 minutes and give them all the details of the job I got for myself. If I get no help from them, why on earth do they need to know anything?

Leaving people – particularly people without networks, and experience – to find a job on their own for 13 weeks before they get any help is designed to entrench welfare it does not reduce it. For people like myself, the biggest obstacle I have in finding a job is my age. When you walk into an interview you know in seconds if you’ve got it or not.

When the person interviewing you is half your age – or close enough – you can see their eyes glaze over the minute you walk in the door. You know they’re going through the motions, being polite so they don’t trip you over in the stampede to get you out the door. But that’s a blog post for another time.

I understand it can be hard to get people back to work. Having been a hiring manager sometimes getting people to arrive for the interview was the hardest task of all. But people do need to be kept to account. It’s all well and good to put your claim in online or list 20 jobs a fortnight in a diary but it’s ‘busy-work.’

Job hunting is a full-time job. And it’s one that is totally boring and ultimately painful. You feel like you’re never going to get anywhere and you’re on a scrap heap. These job network providers should be helping people find work before they end up in the ‘fuck it,’ slump.

13 weeks of constant rejection or no responses to applications leaves you feeling like you’re wasting your time. Once a person’s self-confidence breaks like that it takes more than “focused assistance” to get them back on their feet and believing in themselves.

The people in those offices, who sat silently typing away, could and should have been burning up the phones trying to find job openings for their clients. There were some people in that room who were going to need some help to get going.

While I waited I was listening to a case worker talking to another client on their first interview.

When asked if he had had any luck in applying for jobs he said:

Client: “Yeah, one of em called me back but I said naw, thanks.”

Case Worker: “What, you turned down a job?”

Client: “Yeah, it wasn’t convenient. It was in Sydney and all that travel each day isn’t convenient plus the money was shit. ”

Case Worker: “Oh, okay.”

And that guy was waved farewell with a “see you in 13 weeks if you need more focused assistance,” just as I was.

Australia’s unemployed population have a duty to look for work. Welfare – I refuse to call it benefits because it’s not, it’s not even a livable amount of money if you have a family – is a right, to be sure, but so is being a contributing member of society.

That said, the Australian Government also has a duty to set in motion policies and systems that don’t punish the unemployed but supports them in finding a job. 13 weeks with no help from anyone beyond a fortnightly deposit in the bank is only making the situation worse.

Cutting staff, cutting costs, cutting support services isn’t the way to reduce unemployment. The idea of the Job Network Providers is a good one, if it’s run properly, and frankly it looks like it’s not.

Job Network Providers should be earning their keep not being used as expensive ‘nursey cops’ to ensure the naughty unemployed dole bludger is doing the bare minimum.





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