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Six years on from Josh Park-Fing's death, Work for the Dole is overdue for closure
This week marks the 6th anniversary since Josh Park-Fing's death. The party of labour must do what's right and commit to ending the punishing forced labour program.
This week marks six years since Josh Park-Fing’s death on a Work for the Dole site. We extend our sympathy and solidarity to Josh’s family and friends who bear the burden of the government and minister’s failure to protect him in their forced labour program.
There has been no accountability and nor has justice been served. The program continues to this day subjecting people to unpaid labour in dangerous conditions.
Included below: comments from Abolish Work for the Dole campaign spokesperson Jeremy Poxon; new findings from a survey conducted as part of the campaign; additional background statistics.
Work for the Dole is a coercive labour program. People who don’t have a paid job are forced to work for free or lose their payment. We know the sites are unsafe, we know that people are coerced into the program in violation of their rights, yet the program continues to this day.
Josh was just 18 years old when he was thrown from a trailer at the Toowoomba Showgrounds, sustained head injuries and died. He would be alive today if the exploitative Work for the Dole program did not exist.
Josh wasn’t told he had the right – under social security law – to do training, study or a voluntary activity instead. Like countless unemployed workers, Josh was lied to by his job agency, and told he had to do Work for the Dole.
On his second week at Toowoomba showgrounds, Josh had suffered a back injury. He told his job agency, NEATO, about the injury but they said there was nothing he or they could do. This was also a lie.
In Josh’s case, the department of employment, who is responsible for overseeing job agencies, was never informed of his injury, and NEATO failed to uphold its responsibilities. This systemic institutional failure is what resulted in Josh’s death.
The government is failing unemployed workers. They continue to put us in harm’s way with impunity. That is why we are campaigning to abolish Work for the Dole.
Most Work for the Dole participants have limited prospects of gaining paid work, many are disabled and Work for the Dole is only making matters worse.
We are seeking a commitment from the Labor party to abolish Work for the Dole if they form government, and will lobby minor parties and independents to make this a priority in any potential balance of power negotiation.
But we will not stop there. We are building a grassroots effort to pressure the councils and supposedly benevolent charities that continue to profit from our poverty through the program. We will make this program untenable for the organisations the government depends on to do its dirty work and abolish Work for the Dole one way or another.
If are doing Work for the Dole, have done it the past or have been subjected to compulsory ‘mutual’ obligations, we would welcome your input through the survey that is the foundation of this campaign.
Media contact: 0404 089 575 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Quotes attributable to Abolish Work for the Dole campaign spokesperson and JobSeeker recipient Jeremy Poxon:
I have been supporting Josh’s family for years, and still there is no justice. They are gagged by the government due to legal proceedings that drag on to this day.
How many more years will pass before there is justice for Josh?
My own experiences of Work for the Dole have been harrowing. My current job agency, CatholicCare, care more about doing the government's dirty work, and getting big cash bonuses from public funds, than the wellbeing of people they are supposed to support.
A few months ago I started my latest round of Work for the Dole. No one checked whether I had health issues that would make the work unsafe for me. It’s clear there is no process in place, given how many people with disabilities and injuries are doing hard labour at Ballarat Cemetery.
If the Coalition won’t grow a conscience and commit to abolishing coercive labour programs, the Labor party should grow a spine and make it an election promise. Six years after Josh’s death, it’s galling that the ‘party of workers’ continues to support punitive labour programs like Work for the Dole that destroy lives.
We don’t need Work for the Dole-lite, we need Work for the Dole abolished.
Key findings from new Work for the Dole survey conducted by the Antipoverty Centre
Of Work for the Dole participants who’ve completed the survey:
4% got a job from doing the program.
97% did not want to do the program.
17% said their rights had been explained to them.
Of all survey respondents, including those who have done other forms of coercive labour as a requirement of ‘mutual’ obligations:
85% said they have never had a positive experience with ‘mutual’ obligations
98% said their compulsory activities are not useful overall.
93% said ‘mutual’ obligations makes their mental or physical health worse.
A government-commissioned review found Work for the Dole only increased the chances of a person getting a job by 2%.
There were 234,816 disabled people in jobactive as of February 2022, all of whom are at risk of being coerced into Work for the Dole.
We have used government active sites data to identify 900 Work for the Dole locations and determined that the top three organisations are the Salvation Army with 288 sites (32%), Vinnies with 189 (21%) and Lifeline with 45 (5%).
A government-commissioned review by Ernst & Young found that 64% of sites did not meet the most basic health and safety standards, however the review did not use industry standard Work Health and Safety requirements.
Antipoverty Centre analysis shows that the number of people who rely on JobSeeker (formerly Newstart) has increased by 41% to 786,139 people (83.84% of all people on JobSeeker) compared to 557,395 before the pandemic.
Click here to download an in-depth background document containing additional statistics about unemployment and the social security system, and links to all sources for data included in this section.
About the Antipoverty Centre
The Antipoverty Centre was established in May 2021 by people living on Centrelink payments to counter problems with academics, think tanks and others in the political class making harmful decisions on behalf of people they purport to represent.
We have deep expertise in poverty, disadvantage and unemployment, because we live it. Our goal is to help ensure the voices and rights of people living in poverty are at the centre of social policy development and discourse. We believe there should be no decision made about us without us.
The Antipoverty Centre is not aligned with any political party and does not accept funding that places political constraints on our work.