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Welfare recipients respond to Jobs and Skills summit
Unemployed, disabled and low income people are the real experts in what we need
On 2 September a small number of unemployed advocates gathered on the lawns outside Parliament House to share comments from people in poverty about their barriers to work and proposals for government to consider at the Jobs and Skills summit.
A full video of the protest can be viewed on YouTube. Below is a transcript of speeches read out at the event on behalf of Grace,* Angella, David,* Ray, Miranda,* Ben, Leigh, Jemma and Jules (asterisk indicates name has been changed at the request of the contributor). People included in this event are available to be interviewed by media.
For background information and comment from the organisers see the statement here.
Content warning: Some of the comments included on this page may cause distress, including references to self harm and suicide. Crisis line information is included at the bottom of this transcript.
“The key barriers to work I experienced were an unreasonable, unfair and harsh probation process; refusal by employers and DES provider to provide reasonable adjustments for my disability; being bullied on illegitimate performance issues – because employees cannot claim bullying & harassment if an employer says they’re underperforming; lack of sufficient ongoing/permanent work opportunities; and psychologically unsafe work environments.
“Consequently I have found myself out of work too many times through zero fault of my own.
“We need robust employment laws that protects employees and gives them a fair go. We need safe steady employment that pays enough to comfortably meet living costs. We need a system that genuinely looks after all of the nation’s vulnerable when they fall upon hard times. How we can do this: bring back secure work opportunities with rights and conditions that support and protect workers; ensure a fair probation process that employers are legally obliged to uphold from the time an employee commences work; include under performance allegations from managers as grounds for bullying and harassment; strengthen laws around providing reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities; shift the legal power balance by making employers legally obligated to tell them their rights, give employees a say, and comply with robust fair processes that protect employees. Ensure that these laws can be enforceable through a genuinely independent industrial umpire. A robust social welfare system that can be easily accessed when people fall upon hard times and/or are in ongoing vulnerable circumstances.
“Successive governments need to stop giving reckless tax concessions to huge multinationals and big business. Stop giving large mining consortiums uninterrupted power supply. Start governing in the interests of the majority population.
“Countless studies have proved time and time again that when you provide people who are struggling with genuinely enough means, there are enormous socio economic benefits. For example, people get back onto their feet more quickly, crime rates drop, health levels improve, children’s school attendance levels increase – all of which contribute towards a more thriving economy.”
A longer statement from Grace can be downloaded here.
“I am on JobSeeker going through the strenuous process of applying for carer’s payment. Everytime someone asks ‘Do you work?’ I hate saying ‘No’.”
“Centrelink doesn't take into consideration that many full-time carers are disabled people themselves who are not on the disability pension, such as myself. I have been an unpaid carer for 22 years. Just because my labour is unpaid doesn't mean I'm not a worker.
“The whole DSP application process is a daunting and humiliating process.
“I wish I could attend Tafe or university but I face significant financial barriers. I feel I have a lot to offer but my circumstances are stacked against me including a lack of accessible public transport in my area. I don't drive due to my condition and have to rely heavily on others to get to medical appointments. There is no financial support from the government for me to organise uber or taxi transport to even the closest train station. I feel ostracised from society because I am disabled and unemployed. Most of my time is spent on unpaid labour for my family and as a carer which the government doesn't recognise as valuable because it's not contributing to the economy.”
“In the last 4 years, I have acted on suicidal thoughts a total of 54 times. I was already struggling before I experienced half a year of further abuse. I now experience memory loss as a result. If I had payments above the poverty line, I would have had a better chance at escaping. If I had a payment above the poverty line, I wouldn't rely on a victim's claim to purchase basic needs WEEKS AFTER escaping. If I had a payment above the poverty line, I would have more support in being able to live my best life. That is the right of every person. If I had a payment above the poverty line, this life might be worth living.
“I ask my one and only question: Will you commit to raising pensions and people out of poverty? Because I am one story out of many and I will not be the last.”
Ray’s story: Ray is 55 years old and has been insecurely employed for decades. Despite holding a Bachelor's degree in Science, loyal Union membership within construction and cleaning industries, and a passion to do meaningful work he is proud of, Ray has been failed by every layer of our society and government. This year Ray was sent to an unsafe job that bullied him and underpaid him, and his provider didn't care. When he fled his home due to domestic violence, Centrelink denied him a crisis payment because he'd saved up just $2,000 in liquid assets to use for a rainy day. Ray is still currently living in crisis accommodation, still trying to make things work out for himself without any meaningful support from government.
“My main barriers would be my age and the lack of specific skills for a job In a certain area. I'd say that along with my other barriers jobsearch providers are also a barrier to employment.
“For profit jobsearch providers do nothing to help the unemployed or underemployed. They simply want to make money out of them via dodgy jobs and work for the dole.
“At the moment both major seem to believe that punishing the unemployed, or underemployed in my case, is going to help us. I want to be helped not punished.”
“Most workloads beyond entry level are calibrated for a full timer. Even if your employer is willing to let you vary the hours in theory, in practice there's too much stuff to do! That's not sustainable for me in the long term.”
“I don't dream of living in the care of my family forever. I want to move out of my family home, I want to discover myself, I want to meet people and maybe even start a family with someone special. And I want to find a job I can really say I enjoy, secure in the knowledge that I won't become homeless due to physical limitations I have no control over. I don't want to die sad and alone never doing anything with my life, and I don't plan to without a fight. But unless Australia changes to better support the needs of unemployed the disabled Australians like me, I may never find the chance to live a happy and healthy life that I deserve. I want Australia to start to become the country of opportunity that it promises to be.”
“Over a decade ago, I was studying to get into Tech / IT. However my mother was a long time sufferer of ovarian cancer and her health took an even more bad turn and I had to give up my study and any work to care for her full time. During this time, I incurred a debt from centrelink because of dodgy practices of the college I was previously studying at. I paid back this debt eventually, but still had a VET-FEE HELP debt, which was later wiped due to the aforementioned dodgy practices being exposed. My mother, however, passed away after about 3 years of (unpaid) full time care from me and with me unable to resume my studies, I went on to centrelink. Having not worked for such a long time, no employer would even look at me. With no employers willing to give me even an interview, my work history gap only increased. I lost all hope. Flung from services provider to services provider, getting instantly parked. Subsisting on the meagre payment for a decade now, my health inevitably declined also.”
“My barriers are: No one wants to hire an aging, chronically ill person who can barely stand up with an ever increasing work history gap. My health declined specifically due to the low payment level. All I want is the pay rate increased to where I can afford to look after myself to get my health conditions managed to a point that I can maybe get some kind of office job or something where I can sit down while working. I want to work more than anything, but I just feel like I am never given even a chance, not even a chance to feel any hope. The punishment from this system is unnecessary, I think I have suffered enough. I think we all have.”
“I am a former solutions and enterprise I.T. architect with more than 20 years in IT. Having to cope with undiagnosed/untreated ADHD has left me traumatised and broken. My barriers to paid work include transphobia. They include a lack of flexibility around work location and work hours. Flexible work arrangements would better accommodate my ADHD, which I can't get a formal diagnosis for, because the medical profession is trash and I can't afford the out-of-pocket expense.
“I want employers to move to a 30 hour work week. Compulsory succession and advancement planning for every workplace would be great. If an employee doesn't want to pursue advancement, then they should be able to opt out. But career progression should be the default setting. Mandate a minimum of 50 training hours per full-time equivalent staff member each year for people's current roles, plus 50 training hours for future advancement. We should also have free TAFE and uni for everyone.”
“I am a former high school teacher with an acquired disability - complex post-traumatic stress disorder - due to occupational violence. Like many disabled people - particularly women - in Australia, I am unable to access the disability support due to the punitive partner income test, making me completely financially dependent on my loved ones and denying me a life of dignity.”
Media contact: 0413 261 362 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Crisis support and counselling services
If you need support you can seek guidance, counselling or crisis help from the below organisations or talk to someone you trust.
Suicide Call Back Service – general: 1300 659 467
SANE Australia – general: 1800 187 263
13YARN – for First Nations people: 13 92 76
National Counselling and Referral Service – for disabled people: 1800 421 468
Headspace – for young people: 1800 650 890
QLife – fo LGBTQIA+ people: 1800 184 527
Full Stop – for people who have experienced sexual harassment and assault: 1800 385 578
Embrace Mental Health – multilingual service:
MensLine – for men: 1300 789 978
Brother to Brother – for First Nations men: 1800 435 799
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.