Unemployment leading to mass ‘Work for the Dole’

Growing unemployment in wake of the COVID-19 lockdown could force more than 200,000 Australians onto the federal government’s Work for the Dole scheme, new research warns.

As jobseeking requirements return, despite a struggling job market, experts are concerned Australians are being pushed towards a program described as “slave labour re-branded”.


Concerns with jobseeking requirements. Photo: MVH


A struggling economy and weakened job market due to the COVID-19 saga is predicted to force more than 200,000 Australians onto the federal government’s Work for the Dole scheme.

As mutual obligation requirements for welfare recipients slowly return after a COVID-related hiatus, a new report by think-tank Per Capita says the system cannot remain in current form.

Researchers say current requirements, such as making jobseekers attend community service programs picked by providers, would be unreasonable in a market where competition will be fierce.

The report also called for the government’s Work for the Dole scheme to be disbanded and replaced with a “genuine work experience program for people experiencing long-term unemployment”.

Per Capita said the program — which is currently mandatory for those unemployed for more than 12 months — was a “ticking time bomb”. It estimated that in a year’s time, the program will cost an extra $22 million, as 220,000 more people are forced onto the controversial scheme.

The report said there was strong evidence the program reduced work availability and caused harm to people suffering from unemployment-related poverty and financial stress. 

Per Capita’s Executive Director, Emma Dawson, said the government must address the program and the broader mutual obligation framework “before throwing any more money into the system”.

“As it stands, the system simply does not help people find jobs, or support skills development. The government should redirect its funding to genuine work experience programs that can support communities to recover from the economic shock resulting from COVID-19 and the recent bushfires.”

It’s said the new mutual obligations system should be personalised according to each unemployed person’s individual circumstances and work history.

This seems like the obvious approach that should be taken in any given scheme, however, the current system has been developed for the sole purpose of trapping people and making them dependent.

Now, as the economy continues to suffer from COVID-19, more Australians will be lost in the shuffle.


Work for the Dole has been cranking back into action and mutual obligation requirements recommenced in a limited capacity from 9 June 2020. This is the precursor for getting the beleaguered jobactive system to back on its feet to meet unprecedented demand for services.

The argument for the program is that it deters people from remaining on benefits, however sadly, Work for the Dole has only negligible effectiveness with a limited number of people.

Yet, Work for the Dole keeps coming back. It might as well be replaced by a 19th century whipping machine for all the job search help it really provides.

Australia’s job market has also been slowly declining, with SEEK reporting a severe downturn in job advertisements according to their April 2020 Employment Report.

Only one job is available for every 10 people unemployed in New South Wales and Victoria alone.

Under the program, job seekers must work 25 hours per week in ‘approved programs’ to maintain their payments, although there are no ongoing opportunities from ‘work experience’ placements. 

Participants must also change activities every few weeks, travelling inside of a 90 minute radius of their home address. This is the first major obstacle for disadvantaged individuals with no licenses.

Due to an increasingly difficult job market, placements rarely match the client’s skills, wishes or experience, rather they are pushed into an endless cycle with no chance of employment.  

For many unlucky jobseekers, the program takes the form of picking up garbage at the side of the highway, digging holes in a community park or stacking shelves in a charity op shop. Participants have ended up doing the same jobs as criminals complying with community service.

Not to mention it also distracts from real job-seeking activities and actually reduces work availability, because people are penalised with payment suspensions if they don’t attend programs.

Job agencies also offer little support, as they are cashing in from ringing up employers and securing new Work for the Dole activities every few weeks or so. According to AUWU 2018 figures, a jobactive provider could earn up to $2,000 per scheme. Why would they want them to leave?

For years, hastily-constructed administrative arrangements have led to a raft of concerns with the program. It soon became clear that it did not provide for cooperation and that there were unrealistic expectations for fair-fee splitting arrangements between jobactive providers and hosts.  

There are ongoing issues with contracts for services, as well issues with the risk management of activities. Disputes regularly occur about contract terms between hosts and agents, which range in scale from missing receipts for tea and coffee, to withheld fees in tens of thousands of dollars.

Not to mention, until the recent raising of the support minimum, the program was bonafide “slave labour re-branded”. 50 hours per fortnight work for $310 (Youth Allowance) or $585 (Newstart). Yet people continue to criticise ‘dole bludgers’ previously working for as little as $6.20 per hour.

Work for the Dole is a punitive program that has no place in a society that cares about helping unemployed people get jobs. It does not work and it is unfair. It is administered by jobactive providers whose profit-making motives drive their behaviour at all levels of the organisation.

There have been calls to re-model and overhaul the unemployment program for many years.


The Australian Council of Social Services has told the government that Work for the Dole is an inefficient use of public resources and must be overhauled.

Senate estimates were also told in 2016 that the work experience program had improved the probability of an unemployed person finding a job by just 2 percentage points. This was before coronavirus ‘pandemic’ hit Australian shores.

Lawyers familiar with Work for the Dole say it is “punitive” and “mind-numbing”, leaving job seekers in risky situations without adequate insurance and other protections.

In 2016, a government-funded report suggested 64 per cent of Work for the Dole worksites failed to meet “average” health and safety standards.

This exposure to risky situations for participants culminated with the death of 18-year-old Josh Park-Fing in 2016. Josh died after falling from the tray of a flat-backed trailer being pulled by a tractor which hit a bump, causing it to slip a gear and jolt.

The reality is jobseekers, whose only crime is being unlucky enough to be unemployed, are being treated in much the same way as criminals, where the punishment for failing to work for the dole is not being able to afford food or to put a roof over your head.

Except, unlike those forced to serve a community-based sentence for committing a crime, job seekers don’t have a hard out after a certain number of hours. For unemployed Australians, this program continues until you either find a job or are transferred to another ‘stream’ of the job network.

Unless there is a serious reform of the program, it will remain a blight on the egalitarian nature of our society. It will continue to serve as a reminder that there is a part of our nation where the ideals of a fair go and support for those who need it, doesn’t really seem to apply.

Now, with nearly 1 million Australians looking for work, the system will only get more out-of-touch and force more struggling individuals into this continuous cycle of servitude. For those few who do end up finding employment, they will join a robotic environment of ‘COVIDSafe normalities’.

Are we seeing the slow, intentional creation of a slave class of workers in Australia?

Stay tuned for more as we follow this development.


Mutual Obligations After COVID-19: The Work For The Dole Timebomb | Per Capita

Work for the Dole facing coronavirus ‘timebomb’, says economic think tank | ABC News

JobKeeper, JobSeeker payment rates slashed | The New Daily

‘Slavery rebranded’: Aussies slam Centrelink’s ‘work for the dole’ | Yahoo!

Work for the dole is inefficient and unreasonable and should be dismantled: ACOSS | Sydney Morning Herald

Creating a New Slave Class: Workplaces in ‘post-lockdown’ Australia | TOTT News


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4 comments on “Unemployment leading to mass ‘Work for the Dole’”

  1. This is beyond upsetting now. I cant fathom what the future holds for our children. Is there anyone brave enough to stand up anymore?…or even see

  2. Unfortunately I agree with you that we are heading towards a world where people are enslaved. With millions out of work and no jobs and this scenario is only going to get worse, work for the dole is step one isnt it? All because of decades of successful programming of the masses. They have done a good job on them havent they? The believers (of the Govt bs) and non-believers are at war with each other right now. People have been physically attacked in the street for not social distancing and not wearing masks. Where does that end? Only with a huge push back, we only need 10% of the population to say NO…we are having NO MORE of this!

  3. There is work for those who will do anything, today it’s hard to get someone who will mainly do garden weeding.
    On the spot decisions is often a good idea, calling around to people’s homes with a Ute or trailer to pick up rubbish that has been lying around for years.
    Doing small odd jobs from one house to another, word of mouth will increase prospects or have a letter box delivery telling people you are calling in their street to take rubbish away on a certain day, you may need a green/blue card if you need to go inside a person’s home. Give your name, address & mobile to the Local Member telling him what you are doing to let people know you are honest.
    Washing Council Buses is a job that is awkward and people give up on doing it, vacuuming inside the buses & washing buses in the rain etc was the negative.
    Working in a Butcher shop doing the horrible jobs.
    Being a Trolley Boy for grocery shops.
    Anyone can keep a job and improve themselves if they are prepared to humble themselves and be ready to be told what to do , which is especially hard for the male youths to do, so be prepared.
    Careful of the companies that try and help you get a job, many do almost nothing for you , so word of mouth which ones are the best is a good idea, some refuse to let you go to another Job placement company & you can be tied up with them & nothing you can do about it………. keeping at a not so good job for six months can put you in good for a better job later.

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