Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Turning the unemployed into breadwinners – new Job Creation project starts today

Today brings in Australia’s Job Network Mach III – a new round, and also new level of farce. That the system is now 100% in the hands of private operators should be a small mercy for the unemployed. In my several years of being compulsorily on the books of one Job Network provider (admittedly while being intermittently employed), I received not a single phone call, letter etc from them – nothing.

By now limiting the unemployed to one Job Network provider only, the providers, newly confident that their efforts won’t be in duplicatory vain, may actually feel inclined to provide a service (albeit ultra-automated) in return for the billions of dollars** they receive. Cynical economists, though, may observe that the new system merely sweetens the former quasi-monopoly into an absolute one – the unemployed are compelled to choose one provider (in a one-size-fits-all-market, unless you’re non-English-speaking or disabled), and the provider is, of course, acutely aware of its “customers” total captivity.

Economics aside, the stinking, useless nature of the Job Network system is succinctly- enough shown by factoring in the above lack of contact with my status* as an “easy case” for job matching. I may be wrong about my “easy case” classification, of course (as indeed the passage of my time spent unemployed seems to suggest). But, if so, I doubt that I fit within the generic profile of a long-term unemployed person – so logically making me a hard case, and therefore presumably a prime candidate for a placement bounty, a specialist JN provider, or some other type of exceptionalism.

But I digress - too far in terms of making one man into an island. Most other long-term unemployed in my situation have since emigrated, or taken the PhD scholarship option. While the latter pays double the dole-rate, and has much less onerous “mutual obligation” requirements – thus fulfilling the two main criteria for an attractive “bludge” – I have too many personal scruples to do this, particularly to do with finishing what I start, and basic intellectual honesty.

In ethical contrast, so-called dolebludging is now an oxymoron, at least when applied to the actual unemployed. Whatever scruples we unemployed may lack, we can at least rest with the knowledge that the direct cash transfers** devoted to work-for the-dole supervision, Job Network provision etc, surely now outpace Commonwealth disbursements to our own pockets. I am thus now privileged to be that morally sacrosanct thing – a breadwinner; at least for the monkey(s) on my back.

Which is not intended as a boast, but rather as a segue. Weekend news reports about the introduction of Job Network Mach III highlighted the surprisingly high-incidence of “no-shows” during the recent changeover, which required all unemployed to personally attend an interview with their (generally new) Job Network provider. Of the 372,000 unemployed so far given appointments (the interview process has seemingly gotten bogged down, and now continues until September), 147,000 or almost 40% (according to the AFR; the Sunday Telegraph put the figure at 84,000) have been “no-shows”. The disparity in the figures reported by these two newspapers is surprising, as is the fact that the Murdoch tabloid gives the much lower, less controversial one.

Less surprising, perhaps, is this spin by the Sunday Telegraph:

Cutting the benefit to all 84,000 would save the Government about $1 billion a year. Employment Services Minister Mal Brough said the review would save taxpayers hundreds of millions and force tens of thousands off benefits. "This will shake the tree like it has never been shaken before," he said.

But nothing in this new world of dolebludgers-turned-job creators is ever quite what it seems. The AFR not only didn’t report a fiscal upside of no-shows; it quoted Mal Brough as considering making extra funds available to Job Network providers, so they could then make reminder calls to clients about their interviews. No “shaking the tree” here, no sirree – not when JN provider’s livelihoods are on the line. Or, as Mal Brough puts it, money really is no object when the unemployed are threatening to resign from their posts: “We are determined to improve the attendance rate”.


“Thousands to lose welfare” (URL valid to ~ 3 July 2003 only)
By Simon Kearney
The Sunday Telegraph June 29, 2003

“Plan to chase no-show job seekers” (no URL)
By Cherelle Murphy
The Australian Financial Review June 28-29, 2003


* I have two Bachelors degrees (one with Honours) from the university that opened so many doors for Tim Watts, a coursework Masters (with first-class Honours), two TAFE diplomas, and a raft of experience in many job sectors, skilled and unskilled

** By “direct cash transfers” I exclude the (government’s) costs of providing unemployment benefits as a form of welfare, including the costs of verifying unemployment and job-seeking bona fides. The latest round of JN contracts are worth $2.5 bn over three years; that is, an average of $1,100 per job-seeker per annum (or $20 per capita per week). While figures for the global, per capita cost of work-for the-dole supervision are not available, I would estimate them at seven-to-ten times the $20 per week cost of JN “service” provision.

Update 2 July 2003:

Today's Age has Mal Brough's Jekyll'n'Hyde-ness in one. On the subject of Mal, until I saw his sleek, sneering carcass on last night’s 7.30 Report, I’d always pictured him as something quite porcine, a mental picture probably unconsciously influenced by the past depictions of pariah ex-pollie, Mal Colston.

P.S. There are a few comments on this post (thanks, guys), despite the Comments counter showing zero. I'll let this go for a bit, to see if it fixes itself (thanks, meika).

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