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Issue #1925      July 27, 2020

How hard is it to just keep Social Security above the poverty line?

Before COVID-19, JobSeeker (then Newstart) and Youth Allowance was then about $550 per fortnight. Most of that income would go straight to bills and rent, and what you had left, maybe $100-150, would go towards food, travel, health care, and other necessities. You forgot about buying new clothes or going out with friends. You forgot about getting haircuts, paying your car registration, or seeing a psychologist.

When you are used to living like this then the JobSeeker Coronavirus supplement is like a whole new world. Suddenly you can afford food again! A whole extra $550 per fortnight for JobSeeker is what is needed when you have hundreds of thousands of previously employed people sliding into the demoralising life that is unemployment.

It’s funny in a “if you don’t laugh you cry” kind of way, because since March, all governments have been trying their hardest to splinter the unemployed and underemployed. Every single COVID-19 relief plan has clear demarcations between deserving and undeserving. This ranges from the Victorian government’s rental relief grant to the demarcation between JobKeeper and JobSeeker to the complete disregard for casual and migrant workers.

Social security during COVID-19 has, frankly, been a bit of a confusing mess and the only sure thing has been that JobSeeker above the poverty line keeps people fed and sheltered. But the government is hellbent on trying to pursue the narrative that feeding people and giving them places to live creates Job Snobs!

The attacks on the unemployed started escalating just before the recent JobSeeker and JobKeeper announcements were made. We started seeing some of the biggest criminals in mainstream media interview employers who claimed no matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t find anyone who wanted a job. The claim is that this culture of Job Snobbery is destroying our economy and driving small business into the red. But when you look at the charts that the Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) have been producing, this just doesn’t add up. Instead, you are left wondering what kind of terrible, dangerous jobs these people are trying to force on the most desperate people looking for job security.

It’s not just conservative media that is playing up this narrative, but also liberal media such as the ABC who published an article called “Don’t want to stack shelves? Why the new JobSeeker rules mean refusing a job will come at a cost”, which suggests that the problem with JobSeekers is that we think we are too good for “low skilled” labour. The ABC changed the name of the article to not include the “Don’t want to stack shelves?” attack, but it didn’t change the content of the article that still insinuated that JobSeekers are just sitting around jobless because we won’t stack shelves. Obviously the author doesn’t remember the story that went round in March about how Coles received 36,000 job applications for just 5,000 casual positions.

However, JobSeekers aren’t the only ones getting attacked and blamed for the economy. Last week the Anthony Albanese said on Radio National Breakfast that paying workers more on JobKeeper than they were by their employers has wasted billions of dollars and contributed to Australia’s debt. A shining example of a Labor leader blaming overpaid workers on ruining the economy!

Now we have both JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments being chipped away at, both set to lose a minimum of $300 per fortnight after September. The JobKeeper program has been further fragmented and will soon consist of two categories of those who work less than twenty hours a week and those who work more. This means for those working less than twenty hours a week, the JobKeeper pay is cut by $750 per fortnight. This will mean that JobKeeper payment will be $1,200 or $750 per fortnight, and the JobSeeker payment will be $815 per fortnight. After September, JobSeeker payments and some JobKeeper payments will be officially below the Henderson poverty line yet again.

For those new to JobSeeker/Newstart, this will be their first time living under the poverty line. It will also be their first time experiencing mutual obligations, which is the practice of being under the thumb of privately owned Job Service Providers (JSPs). While mutual obligations are technically in effect, you won’t be penalised for not attending JSP appointments or applying for the correct amount of jobs until 4th August. This will be particularly confusing for those in Melbourne’s lockdown that isn’t due to end until two weeks after mutual obligation penalties return. Does Work for the Dole and going to JSP meetings count as essential work?

JSPs are able to control your employment and your social security by being the middleman between you and Centrelink and you and a potential employer. It is not uncommon to hear anecdotes of JSP case workers sabotaging potential job offers. Rather than keep JobSeeker above poverty line, the government instead pours money into these private companies who manipulate unemployed people for further financial gain and grants.

The Work for the Dole program is going to be in for a wild ride when, according to research think tank, Per Capita, 220,000 people could be on the Work for the Dole program by the middle of 2021. If this becomes the reality in 2021, that would mean a creation of 220,000 unpaid jobs with poor safety and working conditions.

Mutual obligations, Work for the Dole and the private JSPs need to be completely abolished and replaced with a publicly owned and run Jobs Guarantee program and employment services, as AUWU demands. This is beneficial for everyone since it would develop Australian industry, create more jobs, provide real training, eliminate government sponsored free labour, reduce unsafe work environments, and save tax payers’ money going straight into unsustainable unemployment programs. The only issue? Well, wages would rise, but that’s just a problem for the capitalists.

Next article – Unions launch plan for jobs led reconstruction (ACTU)

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