THE head of a leading local employment agency has expressed grave concerns over key components of the Abbott government’s proposed radical overhaul of unemployment benefits.
Nigel Barlow, chief executive officer of Armidale-based Jobs Australia Enterprises, is worried about the impact some of the controversial changes, set to come into effect in July next year, will have on jobseekers.
The Coalition wants the unemployed to apply for 40 jobs a month and, under an expanded work-for-the-dole scheme, perform up to 25 hours a week of work, such as volunteering, training and participating in state programs.
Jobseekers aged under 30 will have to wait six months from the time of lodging their dole applications until they receive any money, yet will still be required to enrol in approved work placements.
Mr Barlow said that Tamworth, with an unemployment rate of about 6.8 per cent – 0.8 per cent above the national average – simply did not have enough vacancies for out-of-work people to realistically apply for 40 jobs every month.
“I just can’t see that jobseekers are going to be able to do 40 quality submissions a month,” he said.
“My concern is that we’ll just have people ticking boxes, rather than focusing on 15 jobs per month and really putting in the work and the effort to put in a good quality submission for those jobs.
“And then there’s the fear of going for six months before getting a payment, in some instances. I have some concerns about that part of it.”
Mr Barlow, whose organisation – one of three main local providers – has 700 people on its books in Tamworth alone, said the government, in its push to get people off welfare, needed to be realistic about people’s capabilities.
“The concern for me around that is people are going to be pushed into jobs that they won’t be able to sustain,” he said.
“One example is the abattoirs. They’re always looking for workers, but it’s the sort of work that not everyone can do.
“It’s not a case of ‘I don’t want to get my hands dirty’, it’s a case of ‘I’m violently ill when I’m in that environment’.”
Mr Barlow said he believed the expanded work-for-the-dole scheme had merit, providing the government was willing to fund the programs needed to ensure participants completed “useful, meaningful” work.
“It needs to be work that is positive for the community and where people do gain meaningful skills that they can then apply to the workforce,” he said.
“Some of it is providing people with a reason to get out of bed and providing people with a purpose. There are people who are third and fourth generation who have never worked – those people exist.
“I think work for the dole, if it’s managed properly and funded appropriately, will do that and it will be a good thing.”