Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Work for the Dole and the impact on industry

As a solicitor doing a lot of Legal Aid work, most of my clients are in receipt of Centrelink. Many of them are on parenting payments, but many of them are in receipt of NewStart, or the Disability Support Pension.

For those people on Newstart payments, I acknowledge that there are many barriers to employment, including lack of skills. In Australia, we have a safety net which enables people in that situation to survive, even if that 'survival' is merely subsisting on the bottom level of society.

One of the roles of Government is to attempt to re-engage these people in society by sourcing remunerative employment for them. There are lots of private- and public sector organisations which assist people to obtain employment, but many of them are simply not capable of obtaining a job due to complete lack of skills.

There is a program available through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations called 'Work for the Dole'. This is a voluntary program, and the stated intention is to "provide you with opportunities to build skills and gain experience through activities which benefit local communities across Australia." If you are local to Adelaide, you will remember the bone-jarring trips up King William Street south of the parklands, which was paved with bricks during a Work for the Dole program. I cant help thinking it could have been done with a lot less labour if it was sealed normally, but I guess when you are employing people for free, you don't need to worry about paying for man-hours!

The website states that "Work for the Dole activities are available with not-for-profit organisations, or with local, state, territory or Australian Government agencies."

I wonder if these programs could be expanded to allow more people to enter the work-force and engage in skill-building activities.

The Federal and State governments spend billions of dollars each year on construction projects across the country. Much of it is outsourced to private companies, who bid for the contract to perform the work. Those companies employ highly skilled labourers (or less-skilled labourers) to do the work, and this area of industry accounts for a significant portion of the total industry.

But what if our governments, instead of paying private companies to source the labour, sourced the labour itself?

You have a massive pool of unemployed people with no real work skills. The government is already paying them $400/fortnight, just to sit around and 'look for work.' For a small increase (say 50%), you could have them gainfully employed, which saves the cost of paying other workers.

I would propose a graded scale of increases to welfare payments based on continuing training, and hours worked. So a person could walk off the street and into 'basic training', where they would learn the basic skills needed to mix concrete, lay bricks, or shovel manure.

As their experience increased, they could be offered increasing training to be able to perform more complex tasks, until they are, in effect, a skilled labourer.

As that person up-skills, their welfare benefits could increase also, BUT not so much as to compete with private companies. Once that person has reached a certain training level, they will be an attractive worker for private businesses, but not being paid as much. A private business could then hire them directly, simply by offering a higher (IE award) wage.

The money for the training could be saved by not needing to pay contractors to do the work at market rates.

One down-side to this is that this work-force detracts from a similar private industry. It could be seen to compete with private businesses, especially for other government contracts.

I do, however, see a radical expansion of these programs in the not-for-profit sector (including government sector).

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