A young Newstart recipient* in Launceston is juggling three casual jobs and full-time study when they get a text message.
"1 week down. In 3 you go to Work for Dole phase. Many job seekers find work or study and use it as their activity," it reads.
The somewhat demeaning tone of the message adds to the anxiety already felt about the Work for the Dole program, which would add 25 hours of - effectively - unpaid labour a week to ensure they keep receiving their paltry Newstart payment with just a little extra for their trouble.
Despite government assurances that Work for the Dole would prevent young people becoming "entrenched in a culture of welfare dependence", reviews have shown it was barely more effective at getting people into work than if they simply didn't need to take part in the program in the first place.
MORE ON THE STRUGGLES FOR TASMANIAN WELFARE RECIPIENTS:
- Stories of despair in the face of Newstart and Centrelink in Tasmania
- Life on $65 a week: The tight squeeze for Tasmania's youth while studying
- 'No middle ground': Tasmania's youth stuck between support accommodation and unaffordable rentals
- Hobart woman cops $23,000 VET FEE-HELP debt for course that she couldn't access
- Greens Beach woman gains 52,000 signatures on Newstart petition
- Jobactive failing the unemployed, Tasmanian job consultant says
- Woman claims job program for Aboriginal people was 'negligent, unethical'
The Newstart recipient calls their job service provider to investigate but is quickly captured in a Kafkaesque web. They'll look into it, they say eventually. Then the provider promises to call during a one-hour window.
That hour comes and goes. Then the call arrives. After some intimidating exchanges, it turns out Work for the Dole isn't actually required.
Forget the fact that Newstart recipients have their payment cut off if they miss a phone appointment. It doesn't work the other way. If a provider misses the appointment, nothing happens.
This series of events is perfectly common.
Add in other variables for jobseekers - they live rural, they have no access to transport, they have a mental health condition, they are over 45 - and the frustration only grows when confronted with Australia's welfare system that, seemingly, has the aim of belittling jobseekers, all for a payment that leaves most below the poverty line.
Then there are young Tasmanians trying to chase their dream career at university. Take Youth Allowance recipient Jacinta Antoniazzi, for example, who had to move from Launceston to Hobart to study law. After paying $480 a fortnight for student accommodation shared with five other students, she has $65-a-week left to cover food, transport and other living expenses.
That rent is likely to keep going up as well, but her payment won't.
Have a go, get a go, right?
Senator Bridget McKenzie scoffed at a question I asked her about whether the greater casualisation of Tasmania's workforce meant the illegal Robodebt program had hit the island state hardest. She replied that there were full-time jobs available at timber mills. Problem solved!
But ask any jobseeker in Northern Tasmania and they'll tell you that ambitions of full-time work are just that - ambitions. If they do exist, they attract hundreds, if not thousands, of applications.
Casual work is often the only option, but even that can be hard to find.
And perhaps that's the entire point.
Do you ever wonder why unemployment rates rarely drop below 5 per cent? This isn't an accident, but a feature of our economic system.
Having this reserve of unemployed people - particularly in an economy where jobs are increasingly casual, meaning they are non-unionised and insecure - means pay and conditions can be easily suppressed. Workers have a constant threat that if they complain, there's always a waiting army of jobseekers ready to take their job.
In Australia, jobseekers are particularly desperate for work seeing as, for some, it can be a matter of life and death. Reports of the unemployed forgoing medical care and unable to afford basic essentials are common.
The crushing nature of our welfare system feeds this. When the government says it wants to end welfare dependence, it's lying. This economy needs the unemployed. So why not at least offer them some dignity?
Fortunately, the idea of a Jobs Guarantee is slowly starting to gain traction - where anyone above the age of 18 is entitled to a publicly-funded job at a living wage with full entitlements, ending understaffing in public transport, Centrelink call centres, climate change mitigation works, family violence services, anything where there's a clear need. There are countless shortcomings in our society that could be rectified.
Surely anything is a better alternative than allowing the unemployed to waste away.
- *name withheld to avoid repercussions from the job service provider