‘It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience.’
I’ve heard that line at least fifty times since my first placement in the Work for the Dole program back in 2006, and let me tell you, the more I hear it, the more upset I get. Usually the people that are making this claim are the ones that are being paid to tell me pretty little lies like that.
The Work for the Dole program was introduced to the Australian job-seekers in 1997. Every fortnight a job-seeker receives an itemised statement which tells them how much money the received the previous fortnight. It tells us what we receive (ie. Newstart allowance, Austudy, Rent assistance, Work for the Dole) and it also tells us of any deductions that we’ve asked to be taken out before the money is deposited into our accounts (tax, rent, electricity, phone). I’ve been told by a lot of people to consider all of what I receive to be my ‘earnings’ for taking part in a Work for the Dole program, and yet, I find it hard to do so when we receive itemised statements such as we do. Reality is, we get $20.80 per fortnight (25-50 hours depending on age and amount of time spent on benefits) to do a job. We learn new skills, as a trainee would, yet their pay is higher than ours is. A lot of us choose to pay tax, like any other employed person does, but we cannot claim out-of-pocket Work for the Dole expenses at the end of the financial year. We show up and do the work that is required of us, knowing that if we do not, we don’t get paid. The same goes for those employed in the real world. We’re expected to behave within a set standard of rules and dress codes, just as any other worker is. Yet, we receive just over $20 a fortnight, which, if you work 50 hours a fortnight, is equal to .416 cents per hour.
On the surface, the Work for the Dole program is a good idea. It allows job-seekers who haven’t worked in a long time to experience the work force, gain valuable skills, and also build their self-esteem and motivation to find ‘real’ work. However, as I have discovered over the last four years, that there is also a negative side that seems to never get the publicity it deserves. I’ve been told that the skills that I have gained in administration through many hours of hard work and dedication at $20 a fortnight mean nothing without some sort of qualification. Interestingly enough, I would probably be in the same situation if I had the qualification and no experience to back it up. Work for the Dole did exactly what it was supposed to do: It made me want to work! It did not make me want to sit in a class room, which I had already done for several years before becoming unemployed. I wanted to earn what I was worth, not be subjected to slave-labour rates to do the same job as someone else who might gain the same skills as I do, but earning proper wages.
Presently, I am still unemployed. I have a passion for writing, and helping people out. I have excellent skills in administration that were gained through placement within the Work for the Dole program. I have connections in the Ballarat community, having been nominated for Young Citizen of the Year award in the past for the volunteer work I have done. I also believe very strongly that things have to change in regards to the attitudes of and towards the unemployed.
Whether we like it or not, the unemployed have become a sub-culture in Australia, especially since the economic crisis of the last year where thousands of people were made redundant. To have stereotypes thrown back in our faces like we all lie or that our continued unemployment status is our own fault is, at the very least, discouraging. It is also a reminder that those who are supposed to help us are relying on discriminating comments, hidden in their ‘we want to help you’ tones, and we’re supposed to trust, without question, that these people have our best interests at heart. Such clichés make me distrust the people speaking them, reminding me that someone who relies upon such phrases is probably not the person that I want handling any part of my future.