More On That New Work-For-The-Dole Plan

“Dealing With Centrelink IS A Full-Time Job”

So sayeth a graffiti down in Victoria somewhere where everybody driving can see. It’s most likely true. The dole being what it is – money for not working- the government sort of has to have scary gate-keepers to make the experience miserable enough so more people don’t want to be come dole recipients. The Centrelink experience is the big stick, to the tiny carrot of disincentive to work that is the unemployment benefit payment. Gone are the days of the “non-specific arts grant”.

What’s even scarier is that under the ALP government, the ranks of people who had some kind of Centrelink payments swelled to 6million, which is roughly a quarter of the population. You can see why the Coalition government wants to do something about Centrelink payments to people except it also means kicking a lot of dust into a lot of faces. It’s not going to win them votes. It’s all very nutty and you wonder exactly how the numbers are stacked. Fortunately Guy Rundle over at Crikey has done some maths (thanks to Pleiades for the heads up):

Australia currently has around 830,000 people currently receiving unemployment benefit, which would suggest a raw figure of 33.2 million job applications being made per month under the new scheme.
However, a yet-to-be specified number of people will be exempt from this requirement because they are undergoing training and there will be a certain amount of non-fulfilment — so let’s bang this down to a mere 25 million applications. Let’s now assume that people send these far and wide — full letter and CV applications as required by the new conditions — to all employers.

There are around 2 million registered businesses in Australia, but many of these are sole proprietors billing as companies or multiple shell companies around a single real business. Let’s assume 1 million employment entities. By this absurdly abstract raw count, every business would receive 25 extra applications per month.
If we assume that every application will be taken seriously — and that is surely part of the social contract the government is proposing — then every application will take, say, 20 minutes to process, or 8.3 hours a month, a full working day. Assuming these are being handled by an HR staffer on $50,000, that would be $200/month, or $50/week in extra business costs.

But of course, these things won’t fall equally. Many of these applications from minimally qualified applicants with little work experience will go to the entry-level service sector, dominated by small (under 19 employees) and micro (under four employees) businesses.

Let’s look at Tasmania, with the highest unemployment rate. The state has 18,500 unemployed looking for full-time work, who would generate 740,000 applications per month. It has around 25,000 businesses in the service sector — but assuming sole traders and shells, we can bust that down to 15,000 companies. Since small businesses employ 45% of the overall workforce, let’s say they’ll receive 300,000 of these applications (in reality, it will likely be more).
Thus by this reckoning, every operating small business in Tasmania — whether it has advertised or not — will receive an average of 20 job applications per month, generating, by the implied social contract, 400 minutes, or 6.67 hours of extra work per month. That is less than the nationwide business average, but we’re talking about companies with one or two employees. Even if they don’t spend a great deal of time on these applications — and many, being decent people, will give them a read — the actual task of processing them will chew up time in a business day.

But the position gets terrifying when you limit this process to companies that are actually advertising vacancies. currently has 78 vacancies in various service and unskilled sectors for the whole of Tasmania. Let’s multiply that by three for other sources — local papers, word of mouth, milk bar windows — and assume that those 234 vacancies receive two-thirds, 67%, of the applications. That is half a million applications per month for 234 jobs, or 2136 applications per job.

That’s pretty scary. Being somebody who has to read job applications, I am just dreading seeing a load of job applications where I can’t tell if they are keen or not at all. Just as night follows day, if the Coalition get their way on this idiotic idea, I will be reading a lot more resumes than I need to or want to – and that’s just my own selfish take.

The somewhat bigger picture is this: If you are in a small industry, there won’t be more than 40 companies in your sector of work. Once you’re applied to all of them, you’re done. It’s one thing to imagine an infinitely interchangeable unemployed person going into a workforce with unlimited flexibility in how it handles skilled positions in the workplace but the reality is nothing like this.  Certainly if it was a small sector with only 40 or so companies, you would be sending in a resume every month to the same companies knowing full well they won’t even read them because they know you’re only doing it to get unemployment benefits.

As policies go it’s pretty crappy because it cynically assumes that people won’t get jobs, but they have to keep trying. And if everybody did do as assumed by the government says, the numbers say it can’t work. The scheme also floods the HR departments of various companies with garbage data they didn’t ask for, but must be processed anyway – which is costly as well as time-consuming and aggravating. And it also ignores how jobs are distributed across the country. I’m actually scared of how this one is going to turn out.

We Need To Reconsider Education, Work, And Pay

This isn’t a popular notion but it bears mentioning anyway. Our society runs a kind of Darwinian race for our kids as they grow up. The rules don’t stay the same and fads come and go, but in general, the 12 years of junior school and high school is to pick out the best students and send them to university. It also selects the group who are not as good academically, but kids with aptitude towards various trades. It really isn’t interested in kids who are neither academically brilliant or have little sensate skill they can parlay into a trade. Unsurprisingly the dregs of this process end up as adults without a future of any kind. And it’s this population that ends up on the long-term unemployed list, or ends up in a life of crime.

You know those kids. You know those people. You know they exist.

The point is, schooling spends a good deal of time picking winners and losers, and some of the losers lose big, and lose early.  Some of them get a second chance and find some kind of career, but more often than not, the pure abject losers end up as the long term unemployed. It’s a brave employer that gives those people a chance by hiring them. Living at home with one’s parents into one’s forties is not a dignified way to be; living like a homeless person or actually becoming a homeless person is even worse. Doing it on welfare payments likely isn’t exactly the lap of luxury.

Having created winners, the winners go into medicine and law, and some even become politicians and make laws; and this is where it gets really unfair. The people who never lost in their lives get to tell the losers who lost early and lost big that somehow their own fault for not having the right dedication when likely it has a great deal to do with circumstance and environment. Arguably, the winners get to corner the market for high-paying work and the benefits that accrue from such work over the less successful, and then press home the advantage at every turn.

Thus inequality in our society necessarily starts with our concept of education, work and payment. Inequality can only be addressed by governments that are willing to admit that part of its job is wealth re-distribution from the overly successful to those in need – that is to say, the successful lawyer or doctor or banker can afford to pay a little extra to help the people they left behind. To turn around and scorn the losers and cut the benefits seems like an incredibly ungracious thing to do. It’s really not that difficult to understand. Hence a Coalition government that seeks to cut the welfare payments and cut taxes is a government that seeks to increase inequality in our society. There’s really no two ways about it, and it’s pretty deplorable.


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