The Guardian November 1, 2000


Unemployed organise nationally

by David Rigney of UPM

Three delegates from the Un-and-Underemployed People's Movement against 
Poverty (UPM) went to a conference in Brisbane on October 23-25 organised 
by the Brisbane Institute and the Unemployed Advocacy. As delegates from 
all states and territories shared their stories of despair, a 20-year-old 
man walked into one of Brisbane's Centrelink offices, dowsed himself with 
petrol and threatened to set himself alight.

He wanted his payments, which had been cut as a result of sanctions imposed 
on him, restored. The sanctions were imposed under the Howard Government's 
three-strikes-and-you're-out "mutual obligations" provisions. 

There are any number of ways a recipient of social security payments might 
breach these obligations such as a missed appointment or failure to return 
a phone call. Whether or not these constitute a breach is decided by a 
Centrelink officer.

A first breach results in 18 percent loss of income over six months, the 
second a 24 percent loss over six months and a third complete loss of 
income for eight weeks.

Unemployed adults receive $172 per week. If 18 percent is taken away they 
have to live on $140 per week for six months.

On the same day as the Centrelink incident the mother who had tried to kill 
herself and her three children was charged with three counts of murder. In 
what kind of community are we living? Nobody simply wants to kill 
themselves and their children. Only utter desperation drives people to such 
action.

The delegates at the conference spoke about their emotional roller coaster 
of applying for one job after another and being rejected every time. They 
told how they felt under constant stress due to the fear that they might 
overlook something and be sanctioned as a result.

We now see reports of increased homelessness in our country, yet no mention 
is made about the millions of dollars the Federal Government is "saving" as 
a result of their sanctioning of the poorest of the poor in our society.

In South Australia, latest statistics show that about 30 percent of the 
unemployed have been hit for breaching their "obligations".

The rate for youth and Indigenous people is around 70 percent.

In Queensland every second person receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance was 
sanctioned during the last financial year.

These cold statistics hide the despair. Many young people are in danger of 
committing suicide because, as a result of having their payments cut, they 
are made homeless and subjected to abuse and attacks on the streets.

Yet Family and Community Affairs Minister Jocelyn Newman could not do any 
better than blame the victims, emphasising gambling, alcoholism and 
domestic violence. These are the symptoms, not the cause, of homelessness -
- unemployment and inadequate income support are responsible in most cases.

The Minister, of course, made no mention of the relationship between the 
dramatic rise in homelessness and the Government's cuts to the welfare 
budget.

Delegates at the conference exchanged information about actions they had 
successfully taken to empower unemployed people in dealing with and 
objecting to such an unfair system of income support.

Although only one sitting member of Parliament, Democrats Senator Andrew 
Bartlett, attended the conference, the audience from various community 
groups, trade unions and welfare-providing organisations listened and asked 
questions  this was the first time that unemployed people had the floor 
and experts listened.

The conference delegates formed the Australian National Organisation of the 
Unemployed (ANOU).

ANOU's founding members recognise that unemployment is not an issue to be 
looked at as separate from the question of employed and underemployed 
people.

It was decided that some of the most urgent issues to tackle are:

* to demand participation in the decision-making process regarding changes 
to legislation and policies affecting unemployed and underemployed people;

* to work towards a change in public opinion regarding the plight of 
Australia's unemployed;

* to establish and and/or strengthen a network of solidarity with the union 
movement to overcome the artificial division between those who are forced 
to work too much, don't have enough work or are not in paid employment and 
to explore issues surrounding the often appalling treatment work-for-the-
dole participants receive;

* to participate in the International Year of Volunteering by informing the 
wider community about the monetary value of volunteer work contributed by 
people looking for employment, and to organise a chain of community 
festivals or events to celebrate the contribution of unemployed and 
homeless people to our communities.

For more information on the UPM contact Monika Baker or David Rigney:
Phone: 08 8352 4950
email: mobak@ozemail.com.au
website: http://www.webcom.com/ausisle/upm

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