BUSY business seeks over 50s workers. Boss happy to allow time off for medical appointments. Prefer public transport users. Hours to suit grandchild minding. Please apply in person.
If only! The reality for most job seekers in their 50s and 60s is a humiliating round of interviews with their job service agency, an obligation to apply for jobs for which they know they are not suited, and a complete lack of respect or interest in their skills from employers.
I recently attended a meeting of the Wonthaggi Branch of the Unemployed Workers Union people. The group arose from a meeting of job seekers 18 months ago. Its purpose is to provide communal support as well as advocacy so people aren't punished for not having a job.
Everyone in that meeting room had a tale of humiliation, frequently from dealing with their own job agency, the Government-funded agencies paid to “look after” them and help them find employment. This mostly consists of drawing up a “job plan” for jobs that don’t exist. For this the agencies receive more funding than the job seekers are given to live on while they look for employment.
Several people shared their experience of life below the poverty line. Around here Newstart can be a vague promise to people who are shuffled through a system of often irrelevant training, statistical obfuscation and the threat of hunger if they don’t tick the right boxes.
People spoke of dumpster diving and couch surfing. Sounds adventurous but the reality of couch surfing is that you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping tomorrow night. Or you’ll sleep in the car with your kids on the back seat. Overnight somewhere. No fixed abode, in other words.
In real terms, dumpster diving means prising open the padlocked lid of an industrial waste bin at the back of your local supermarket. Then shoving your arm into a lucky dip of “best before”’ and “use by yesterday” food. Juggling not quite fresh eggs is the greatest challenge.
In Wonthaggi at 2pm on a Sunday dumpster diving is a last resort for the moneyless and the hungry. Across Bass Coast, churches and agencies offer anonymous access to food banks, shopping vouchers, community meals and food parcels.
The Unemployed Workers Union has 7000 members in Victoria. Our local branch is doing great things to help members navigate a too often adversarial, system, as they struggle to even cover the cost of their meeting room. I went to their last meeting to listen and learn.
Their latest news was that breaching and consequent reduction in payments had been privatised. Turn up late for an appointment or displease your case manager and your daily $39 could be reduced or suspended. Incidentally, that amount hasn’t increased, in real terms, since last century.
Some members of the group live in the Miners Rest “Caravan” Park. That’s a visceral definition of insecure accommodation if ever there was one. There are currently 44,000 Victorians on the waiting list for social housing.
As I drove off to another meeting, I pondered what I could do to help.
In the short term – right now – donate money or food to one of our local foodbanks. Long term, the AUWU is asking us to ask our federal representatives to increase Newstart to a live-able amount.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union provides information about fair treatment of people looking for work. Membership is free.