Abbott's 'enhanced' work for dole

The Coalition government is looking to start its ''enhanced'' work-for-the-dole program in the next financial year, with a focus on young unemployed Australians.

Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker told Fairfax Media that under current plans, work-for-the-dole participants could be working in team projects, such as building a walkway or maintaining gardens or undertake placements in not-for-profit organisations.

He argued work-for-the-dole improved job seekers' prospects and taught them necessary ''soft skills'' such as dressing appropriately for the workplace and turning up to work on time.

Mr Hartsuyker stressed that the government's plans were still ''very much a work in progress'' but said the Coalition hoped it would be ''operational in the next financial year''.

Work-for-the-dole was introduced by the Howard government but scaled back under Labor.

In its current form, after about twelve months, job seekers between 18 and 49 years of age must undertake a ''work experience activity'' to continue receiving their unemployment payments.

A work experience activity could include work-for-the-dole as well as volunteering in the community sector – that includes working with elderly or disabled people – work on  conservation projects or part-time study.

As part of its election commitments, the Abbott government pledged to ''restore work-for-the-dole for those under 50 who have been on income support for six months or more''.

On Monday, Mr Hartsuyker explained that he was re-examining the work-for-the-dole program as part of a broader review into Job Services Australia aimed at cutting red tape.

He said the government was moving forward ''very slowly, very methodically'' with its review and was mindful that work-for-the-dole jobs should not displace paid positions.

Mr Hartsuyker did not confirm reports that work-for-the-dole participants would be forced to collect rubbish.

When asked if the revamped Coalition model would make work-for-the-dole compulsory, he said that there would be a ''very strong onus on job seekers'' to participate in the scheme if they were not studying or could not find a job.

When asked if dole payments would be withheld for those who did not comply, he said that the withdrawal of benefits ''could be a sanction that could be applied''.

''The exact detail of how that would work, we're currently working through at the moment,'' he said.

Australian Council of Social Service policy director Jacqueline Phillips described compulsory work-for-the-dole programs as "ineffective, costly and harsh".

"Past experience shows that work-for-the-dole programs do not help people get jobs. Under the previous Coalition government's scheme, only about one in three participants were still employed three months after the program," she said.

"The money would be far better invested in programs which we know work ... like Wage Connect [which provides a subsidy for employers who employ long-term unemployed job seekers on a continuing basis].

''Nearly half the participants in Wage Connect were in paid employment at the end of the six-month program."

Labor employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor blasted Mr Hartsuyker on Monday for what he described as a ''rehashed election announcement''.

Mr O'Connor said it was alarming that after almost five months in government, the Coalition could not provide any details of its policy.

"Where are the concrete details when it comes to this expanded work-for-the-dole scheme? How much will it cost, how will it work and how many people will be involved?''

The employment spokesman told Fairfax Media that not only was the Coalition's idea ''not new, the evidence suggests it doesn't work''.

"People on Newstart and other income support payments already have strict requirements to make sure they are looking for work or studying, and there are penalties for failing to meet those requirements. This is about the government trying to get a good headline – they aren't helping a single person into a good, stable job."

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh argued that work-for-the-dole had been proven to be ineffective.

''The challenge with work-for-the-dole is what the evidence says,'' he says.

He pointed to a 2004 Melbourne University study of work-for-the-dole, which found the program had a ''large and significant adverse effect on the likelihood of exiting unemployment payments''.

The study suggested that those on work for the dole were hampered by a ''lock-in effect,'' which reduced the time they spent looking for paid work.


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