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.