Local Work for the Dole participants are being treated like ‘criminals on parole’ under tough new rules introduced by the federal government, community organisations say.
The organisations say that the strict penalties that apply to people who miss a Work for the Dole shift since July 1 have left participants in a state of constant worry about losing their benefits.
Exacerbating this is the fact that the new online system for clocking on for a Work for the Dole shift has been plagued by technical problems, increasing anxiety among participants and frustrating the co-ordinators who run the program at the local level.
One of these co-ordinators, Cherie Bromley from the Byron Community Centre, said the new regime was unfair to participants and failed to take their personal circumstances into consideration.
‘They’re basically being treated like people who are on parole – as if they’ve committed a crime or something,’ Ms Bromley said.
‘If you get sick and miss a shift, or if your car breaks down and you can’t afford the repairs, you could potentially be in big trouble,’ she said.
‘They need to be more flexible and more aware that these people are under stress, more aware of people’s circumstances.’
The new measures are part of the government’s ‘Targeted Compliance Framework’, which came into force on July 1 as part of a crackdown on welfare recipients.
In addition to the new penalties, the minimum number of hours that welfare recipients aged 18 to 30 are required to complete has been increased from 15 to 25.
Dept of Jobs
There is also a new system of clocking on and off, which requires recipients to access a code for each shift and enter it into the system via a phone app.
The Department of Jobs says the new system is fairer and more efficient.
However, locals working at the coalface have described it as ‘rigid’ and ‘punitive’.
A representative from one of the community organisations involved in the program said she was concerned about the new penalty regime.
‘I am worried about how people are going to go with the new reporting arrangements and the penalties in place,’ said the representative, who asked not to be named.
‘For those people who have kids or who have to come in by public transport, it’s going to potentially be a challenge for them to clock on in time.’
‘I mean – if they’re trying to get to work by 8.30am on public transport around here… Ha!’
Ms Bromley said the new system for clocking on had also been problematic.
‘I don’t know one work for the dole person who has successfully downloaded the app,’ she said.
‘It’s particularly hard for older people who don’t have smartphones or don’t know how to use them very well. You basically have to have a smartphone to be part of the program.’
But a spokesperson for the department of jobs strenuously defended the new regime, saying that it was simpler, fairer, and more flexible than the old system.
Financial penalties would not apply to job seekers who were ‘genuinely trying to meet their requirements,’ she said.
‘Generally job seekers will not face a lasting financial penalty until their sixth failure without a valid reason.
‘Also, before they face any lasting penalty for repeatedly not meeting their requirements, job seekers will be assessed first by their employment services provider and then by Centrelink to ensure that their requirements are reasonable for their circumstances.’
In answer to the argument that the new rules were too rigid, the spokesperson claimed instead that job seekers would, in fact, have more flexibility.
‘The recently introduced online diary will allow job seekers to… let their providers know in advance about restrictions affecting their ability to meet the requirements,’ she said.
‘Further, if job seekers are having trouble meeting their requirements owing to their personal circumstances, new arrangements will identify these issues before the job seeker faces lasting financial penalties.’
She said participants who did not have a smartphone could instead ‘ask their provider or activity supervisor to record their attendance for them’.