Friday, May 28, 2004

Play for the dole?

A story in yesterday’s Herald-Sun, bemoaning the non-vocational-ness and slackness of many Work for the Dole projects, contains a strange twist, away from the standard serve of righteous tabloid indignation. Senior Labor figures are quoted more or less agreeing with the tabloid’s premise, with Australian Council of Social Services president Andrew McCallum leading the charge, in saying that Work for the Dole should be used for job training, not community service:

I don't think you would go through the Saturday morning paper and find a lot of jobs that say 'mural painting required'.

Err, Andrew, last time I looked through the Saturday morning paper there were exactly zero jobs for “legal academic with teaching experience and research track record required”. So your point is?

For those not au fait with Australia’s Work for the Dole system, worthy-sounding calls for all projects to have a training component miss the point by a mile (and senior Labor figures well-know this, even as they labour it). WfD is simply the last-resort “choice” that an unemployed person has for fulfilling their “mutual obligation” requirements. Notably, education (uni) and training (TAFE etc) are another way of metting one’s “mutual obligation”.

In practice, bearing in mind that the unemployed are just as career- and economically-rational as anybody else, this means that the typical particpant in a WfD project (certainly the ones I have been conscripted into) falls into one of two categories.

The majority are (like me) educated and trained up to our eyeballs. We could have instead chosen to sit in a classroom, and yet again ponder why the job-for-life boomer fuckwit is up the front, when any of us could be teaching the class much better than he/she. Upfront cost/debt is hardly a major deterrent here, either, at least re TAFE, for which a year’s part-time enrolment (sufficient to satisfy mutual obligation) comes to about $70 for an unemployed person.

The minority, on the other hand, are . . . (insert own prejudices here).

What Labor should be banging on about, then, is why Australia has so many highly-educated unemployed, and what to do about it. Hint – putting us in anything compulsory (other than an actual real job, of course) is not going to solve the problem.

As for uni graduates getting to finger-paint etc on some WfD projects, what would Labor like to see them do instead – given that they have explicitly, and quite rationally, rejected the option of further education/training? Painting rocks, perhaps? Commission-based selling? (Always plenty of jobs for that to be found in the newspapers)

Finally, the irony is that the finger-painting type WfD projects are usually run by the more commercially-oriented WfD program providers, and notably not by fundamentalist religious oufit Mission Australia (will is receiving $65 million to run projects in the current year). It’s cheaper, of course, to supervise and insure uni graduates finger-painting than scrubbing down the floors of nursing homes (the latter being more Mission Australia’s – and presumably also Labor’s – style of project).

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