The Guardian July 16, 2003


Job network meltdown

by Andrew Jackson

The Federal Government is set to throw good money after bad and the 
unemployed will be the losers with the announcement of a $30 million 
bailout of the failing private "Job Network" scheme.

Last week saw a raft of revelations detailing the spectacular collapse of 
Howard's privatised network of employment agencies.

When the Federal Government disbanded the Commonwealth Employment Service 
(CES) in 1998 and set up the Job Network Scheme it outlined its vision of a 
"private enterprise knows best" job search system.

The unemployed would register at a Job Network Agency, which would quickly 
and efficiently dispatch them into the hundreds of thousands of low-paid 
positions that would open up under the new industrial relations regime of 
individual contracts. The Government would then pay these agencies 
handsomely for a job well done.

The few who remained unemployed after that would then be swept off into 
slave-labour "work for the dole" schemes, or be hounded until they were 
either forcibly removed from the dole or just gave up looking altogether.

The reality is, and example after example proves, that privatising 
essential government services ultimately and inevitably costs the taxpayers 
more.

Failure and farce

Over 90 percent of private Job Network agencies now say they are 
experiencing severe financial difficulties after the Howard Government 
over-estimated revenues by 40 percent. The majority of agencies say they 
are about to begin retrenching their own staff.

The number of agency sites available to unemployed workers is now just 986 
Australia-wide, down from 2114.

However, the $30 million government rescue package for the agencies will 
not be paid to agencies for locating jobs but will be handed out regardless 
of whether or not the Agency is performing.

Under Howard's privatised job-search scheme, the Government not only pays 
private companies when it refers unemployed people to them, it also hands 
out money to the Job Network companies in compensation because there are 
not enough unemployed people to send them.

The reason for this is because there are so many unemployed people doing 
"work for the dole" there are very few left in the agencies actually 
looking for work!

So, to refill the agencies with much needed clients (and justify the $30 
million) the Federal Government is now pulling 75,000 people off work for 
the dole schemes.

Nasty work

To secure contracts with the Federal Government, Job Network and Community 
Work Coordinator (work for the dole) agencies promise to dob in the 
unemployed for any minor "mutual obligation" infraction committed by the 
unemployed people referred to them.

Failing to answer letters, missing appointments or turning up late for work 
are all notifiable offences for which Centrelink deducts hundreds, 
sometimes thousands of dollars from a persons unemployment benefit.

It was revealed last week that dobbing on the unemployed must be a pleasant 
task  a staggering 110,171 breach recommendations were made by Job 
Network agencies in just six months last year. A further 43,722 breach 
recommendations were made by Work for the Dole employers. But it all makes 
work for private enterprise spivs, paid by the taxpayers!

However, it seems the agencies were a little over-enthusiastic: 122,378 of 
those recommendations were revoked or rejected by Centrelink.

In other words eight in ten mutual obligation triggers have been found to 
be wrong.

This is urgent

In July 2003, after five years of the Job Network 620,000 people remain 
dependant on unemployment benefits with 380,000 of those having been 
unemployed for more than one year.

In just the last month 54,000 full-time jobs have been wiped out and the 
number of full-time jobs as a proportion of the work force is at a record 
low. An additional 31,800 unemployed persons gave up looking for work 
altogether.

The figures reveal that the employment mix is continuing to shift from 
full-time to part-time work. For every part-time job gained in the last 
five months over five full-time jobs have been lost.

The Government has now wasted years and hundreds of millions of dollars on 
a scheme that has been proven  by numerous reports, inquiries and bare 
statistical data  not to work.

All the while families are going hungry and people are living in the street 
for lack of income.

Australia needs a Government that will, as a matter of urgency, re-
establish the CES as a state-run non-profit employment bureau with the aim 
of securing or helping create full-time permanent jobs for all who need 
them.

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