||Issue No. 137||24 May 2002|
An Aussie Icon
Interview: Just Done It?
Tribute: Lest We Forget
History: Solidarity Forever
Technology: Unblocking the Superhighway
International: Gloves Off
Unions: Out Of Work
Review: Strange Business
Poetry: The Lawyer's Lament
Satire: Government Mourns Loss Of Last Anzac
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Your Tools Page is Down
Big Dave Foster
Give Us a Click!
Will the Real Mark Latham Please Stand Up?
The Last Survivor
Not Hate Mail
Out Of Work
Anger, frustration, even a touch of bitterness - these are the emotions that tumble out when you spend a couple of hours with Employment National staff in western Sydney.
Their organisation, once the Commonwealth Employment Services, had its death warrant signed in Peter Costello's seventh budget.
Under its previous guise, the organisation boasted 12,000 workers, committed to placing unemployed Australians in jobs. The 650 survivors will go next June.
Government has washed its hand of the unemployed, leaving private enterprise, mainly charities turned businesses, to match job seekers with vacancies and take hundreds of millions of dollars out of federal funds for the honour.
Out west, the remnants of the Employment National workforce is mad as hell.
Catherine, a veteran of 20 years beginning with CES, insists she and her workmates have been misled.
"A lot of us have come to the view that Employment National was set up to fail," she explained. "This Government always wanted to hand out the work to its friends in the charities but kept us going to keep up appearances.
"We know for a fact that we are making money, millions a year, but they are going to close us down.
"It was a difficult decision to come here in the first place but we believed them when they said we could keep working for the unemployed in our area."
She, and dozens of others, turned down lucrative redundancy offers chase 1700 jobs with the new organisation.
They were vetted by an employment agency before being told they had work on conditions they had enjoyed in the public service.
The alarm bells started ringing when they were forced, against their wills, to sign AWAs.
"It was take it or leave it," Catherine explained, "they said, if you want a job you sign an individual contract."
In the first contract round, Employment National wiped the floor with its competitors. The second, however, followed massive lobbying from the booming welfare industry and, lo and behold, "charites" turned the tables.
Deprived of almost all the lucrative "special assistance" contracts under which Government puts bounties on the heads of hard-to-place job seekers, Employment National shrunk.
Now Catherine fears for her future. She doesn't know whether to take a pay out or put in for a return to a shrinking public service.
It is not that, though, that drives her anger.
She bristles at Government's attitudes to the unemployed, arguing her daily experiences make a nonsense of claims the outlook is brightening.
Casualisation and lengthy stand-down, she claims, allow statistics to mask reality
People who might only get five or six hours work a week no longer show up amongst the unemployed and thousands of Ansett worker, tipped out of jobs before Christmas, haven't registered yet either.
"We have good personal relationships with the people in our area," Catherine says. "It is a thrill when you help someone into a job, it makes what you are doing worthwile.
"But the situation is getting worse all the time. People are angrier, much angrier, when they come through the door.
"Previously, they had one point of contact, now they are sent from provider to provider. They can be sent to Mission one day, Work Directions the next, then, maybe, IPC.
"At every stop there is red tape, more forms to fill in, and all they want is a job."
She is also worried by a marked demographic change. More and more, her clientele is mid-40s plus, coming from a manufacturing sector decimated by the encouragement of low-wage imports.
"It's sad, very sad," she says, "most of these people have given more than 20 loyal years to a single employer. They have proved themselves in the workplace but, the fact is, employers discriminate.
"They say they don't but we know if we send a 50-year-old for a job the odds are against him, or her.
"Government has made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age but it's all for show.
"Employers get around it by insisting on faxed resumes or written job histories. I tell people not to go back beyond the mid-80s, just to give themselves a chance."
Interestingly, there is still a bond between many of the people who worked together in the old CES. Four years down the track they still hold regular reunions.
Some have been with the big church providers, Mission Australian and the Salvation Army, and moved onto smaller operations.
They also fear for their jobs, seeing an unbreakable alliance between the corporate arms of the mainstream churches and the likes of John Howard and Abbott, who share their social and philosophical views.
"We are heading towards a duopoly," one woman says. "You watch, Mission and the Salvos will end up with the vast majority of contracts after the next tender.
"They're not charities any more. Government has turned them into big businesses and these tenders are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"If this competitive tendering ends up with just two providers you have to wonder why they didn't keep the bloody CES in the first place.
"They've gone around in a bloody big circle and spent millions of taxpayers dollars in the process."
Someone points out a notice in the local paper. Mission Australia is offering employers inducements to take-on their clients. Golf clubs, flat screen TVs, DVDs, hi-fi systems, holidays and Grace Bros vouchers are all up for grabs under the Mission Rewards Program.
Nobody will convince Catherine that Abbott hasn't driven the process from day one, for ideological rather than practical reasons.
She points to a ministerial press release in which he claimed that she and her workmates lacked the empathy and Christian principles of their church-based competitors.
At first she wanted an apology but decided the cards and letters from grateful clients were a better response.
"At least they mean what they say."
Between them, Employment National offices at Parramatta, Penrith, Blacktown and Campbelltown are still registering more than a thousand additional job seekers every month.
When they close next year the Federal Government will add another 650 victims to the unemployed register. It's direct contribution to that figure, since taking office in 1996, is well over 100,000.
It's part of the reason Catherine insisted on anonymity.
"You can't trust them. We've been lied to from day one," she says.
"I will probably need to try and get a job back in the public service. If they knew my name I don't think I would have any chance.
"They don't tell the truth and they don't much like it when others do, either"
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