This comment is by Vecsatious
I moved to Oz from the UK in 2001 on a Partnership Visa and was not allowed to seek payed work for the first two years.
I have extensive experience in radio and media work and took a volunteer job managing a community radio station.
Within a few months the board at the radio station announced we were taking on a Work for the Dole group and I was put in charge of them despite the fact I had no experience as an educator.
When I asked what I was supposed to do with them I was told “it is up to you”.
I sat down with my first group of “volunteers” and asked them why they had chosen to work in community radio, five replied “it’s winter and the only other choice was digging holes outside”, none of them had any interest in radio/media work and three of them had no literacy skills whatsoever.
I reported back to their “boss” (the man who ran the only agency in town supplying Work for the Dole candidates, incidentally he is a millionaire) and said it was impossible for me to work in this area with people who could not read or write and asked for replacement volunteers. In response I was told they could not leave until their three months was up and then they would look into the literacy skills issue.
I then attempted to sign these people up for literacy courses but they were told they could not take time out of the Work for the Dole programme.
One of my volunteers was a young gay guy, I had recently introduced a weekly two hour gay show and asked him to work on it, however, the show was broadcast in the evening 9-11pm and I was told by the “boss” that the hours worked on this show outside of 9-5 did not count towards his weekly hours target.
The money given to the radio station went straight into their bank account, I received no budget for my volunteers and had to go cap in hand to the local council who gave me $30 per week to cover tea and coffee for my volunteers.
Every day my heart broke a little bit more, one of my volunteers had serious issues at home and was getting no back-up from social services, two of my volunteers lived 30+km out of town, didn’t drive and there was no public transport, and the ones that did drive had to pay excessive parking fees in order to attend, with no expenses given back to them.
So I became an educator, social worker and general carer for a group of young people even though I was not on a salary, the owner of the business supplying the volunteers got paid a fat fee by the government to “place” them and it seemed to me he was the only person in town to benefit from the Work for the Dole Scheme.
The “boss” did not show any consideration for the real lives behind his “cases”, all he cared about was finding placements at any cost, and that cost came at a high price to everyone else involved.
Before the course ended one of my volunteers committed suicide, two just stopped turning up and nobody cared, two went on to get proper jobs but only because I took an interest in them and helped them with basic stuff like personal grooming and confidence issues.
The whole system is designed for businesses to get rich and the unemployed to get punished.
I treated my volunteers with respect, I tried to inspire confidence and help them with their many, many problems, my proudest moment came when one of them said to me “this is the first time in my life I have been listened to and felt cared about, you are the first person who has ever been kind to me”.
Behind every statistic there is a real human being, with real problems and issues, unemployed people should not be treated as “cases” and “placed” onto work schemes, there will always be people in our society who have slipped through the cracks, our job is not to punish them or demonise them in the media, our job is to provide proper services that will really help them get back on track.
Comment chosen by Guardian staff re debate on working for the dole
This comment is by Vecsatious