« profile & posts archive

This author has written 377 posts for Larvatus Prodeo.

Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

49 responses to “A Word about Welfare”

  1. PinkyOz

    Yes, exactly right. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and while a little bit of income protection might be good, long-term unemployment benefits in themselves are not. Wage subsidies and employment/training programs sound good to me, especially in a time when business is bleating about skills shortages. To be honest it all sounds a bit too logical for our country. 🙂

    Good post Chris.

  2. Link

    What they were extolling was a corrupt, inefficient and ineffective system of shuffling the unemployed between various (mostly) meaningless training programs and work-for-the-dole compliance placements

    (from your first link and thank you for that a very insightful read.)

    Yes and such government funding helped to give the wife of at least one polly in this country, such a lucrative cash flow that she went on to turn it into millions in personal wealth. She did find herself dragged over the coals for under-paying staff in one of her employment services’ companies, but gets lauded as a savvy businesswoman, and never vilified for the source of her not insubstantial cash flow (for doing as the quote suggests). Whereas the unemployed monkey being paid peanuts is routinely, institutionally, traditionally, vilified as being the quintessential ‘loser’.

  3. wizofaus

    I’d certainly agree that genuinely left-wing parties should be exploring policy options that are directly designed to help people find meaningful work (and to make it clear that even 5% unemployment should not be considered ‘satisfactory’ in any way), but I do wonder if “government wage subsidies and direct employment programs” is necessarily the best route – is there much history of success in this regard?
    I’d also say that while there’s no question that there those that have become victims of ‘welfare entrenchment’, the problem in arguably most OECD nations is nowhere near as part as the anti-welfare crowd like to make out. I’m also not entirely convinced it’s a necessary outcome of the basic principles of the welfare system we have, but more a problem of underlying attitudes, i.e. “if we make people jump through demeaning hoops to get welfare they’ll feel they have no choice but to find a job instead” vs “we recognise the vast majority of these people don’t want to be stuck on welfare the rest of their lives, so what active assistance can we provide to help them back into the workforce”. Even if this resulted in a slight uptick in the number of genuine dole bludgers, I’d think it a small price to pay – there’s only so much effort it’s worth putting into ensuring people aren’t cheating the system, especially if they obviously don’t have any much in the way of career or financial aspirations to start it.

  4. Wantok

    Loved the comment of the demonstrating teabagger in Canberra this morning: saying that we must get rid of this government and he was not going to take it any more AND that he should have done this ten years ago………..Duh

  5. Helen

    I’d certainly agree that genuinely left-wing parties should be exploring policy options that are directly designed to help people find meaningful work (and to make it clear that even 5% unemployment should not be considered ‘satisfactory’ in any way), but I do wonder if “government wage subsidies and direct employment programs” is necessarily the best route – is there much history of success in this regard?

    Public schools and public teaching hospitals are an example of direct government employment programs, and they do brilliantly given the shabby deal they are given in funding.

    Take the old-growth forestry industry as an example, Wiz. We pay through our taxes already, and have done so for years, to prop up this failing industry, which does what? Damage our ecosystem permanently for … copy paper. What if we took the taxes we already pay to damage our remaining old-growth forests and used it to subsidise the maintenance of the forest instead – weeds, feral animals, replanting, maintaining walking tracks, running camps and activities and the list goes on.

    The idea that direct Government employment is in and of itself a bad thing is a powerful meme which the neoliberals have managed to entrench at every level of society, but the dirty secret is that our taxes pay for all kinds of industries. It should be out in the open.

  6. Ted

    Hi Chris,

    It may have been pertinent to qualify exactly what you mean by neoliberalism, particularly in light of the progressive/centrist blogosphere discussion of the term in recent weeks: http://clubtroppo.com.au/2011/08/08/matt-yglesias-left-neoliberalism/ – for example. It may help mitigate some of the more generalising aspects of this piece such as “Without neoliberalism, there wouldn’t’ be any [unemployed and benefit scroungers]”.

    Attributing the situation solely to neoliberalism is a bit weak; surely misguided welfare policies from various left/right/centre ideologies have resulted in instances of entrenched welfare.

    Perhaps the “lefties” you champion should abandon ideological positioning as a priority and spend time focusing on the empirical and qualitative frameworks that are conducive to desired outcomes. (I should add though that the inclusion of Mitchell’s work is a welcome start).

  7. calyptorhynchus

    I think we also need to break down the anglo-saxon obsession with work per se. There is no need for any of us to be working the hours we do to keep society functioning. If all the needful work that was shared equally I think we’d all be working about 2 hours a day. Any more than that just creates sectors that don’t need to exist, eg advertising 🙂

  8. wizofaus

    Helen, sure, I even remembering suggesting myself before on another blog many years ago that environmental-clean-up type work is definitely one area where governments could be offering jobs directly, but I suspect only a fairly limited dint could be made into unemployment numbers with these sorts of programs, given the number of people we’re talking about.
    Having since read the blog post by Victor Quirk linked to above, it sounds like the CES under Fraser was at least operating under the sort of principles most of us here would like to see a return to.
    I’d also say one fairly essential underlying goal needs to be that finding work, no matter how little, always results in a noticeable increase in disposal income. Perhaps that’s one area wage subsidies could help; even if they’re logically no essentially different to continued welfare payments, I can see there’s a potential for a positive psychological difference.

  9. Fran Barlow

    Which is why like any good socialist I advocate government wage subsidies …

    Simply laughable … In what way, exactly, does this stand in counterposition to the interests of the boss class?

  10. savvy

    ” Without neoliberalism, there wouldn’t’ be any {ENEMPLOYMENT}”

    What world do you live in to believe such drivel?

  11. savvy

    ” Without neoliberalism, there wouldn’t’ be any {unemployment}”

    What world do you live in to believe such drivel?

  12. Gavin R. Putland

    Fran: If you loved workers as much as you hate bosses, you would concede that it’s better to pay bosses to create jobs than to pay jobseekers to look for jobs but not find them.

    But the real question is why such subsidies should be needed at all. Bosses think the problem is high wages. Socialists think the problem is high profits. They’re both wrong.

  13. tssk

    The other issue we have is work welfare. For the past few years there has been a pressure to do unpaid overtime. And my peers in a variety of jobs are facing the same thing. The company gets rid of a position and people are asked to muck in for a certain time period. And so people’s work time creeps up and up.

    Due to health issues I only work an extra hour and a bit a day now but before that I was working an extra seven to ten hours a day. And then weekends. For no extra pay.

    I suggest a lot of companies are cleaning up doing this, and it means that a lot of good people are locked out of employment. It also sets up this neat tension where employed people blame a lot on the unemployed because they’re jealous of all the time unemployed people have to do things like sleep or get some sunshine.

  14. savvy

    @Tssk
    “but before that I was working an extra seven to ten hours a day. And then weekends.”

    Was that a typo or were you really working 18 hour days and weekends for no extra pay?

    106 hours a week and only getting paid for 38-40 of them?

    What sort of company are you working at?

  15. Gavin R. Putland

    “And my peers in a variety of jobs are facing the same thing. The company gets rid of a position and people are asked to muck in for a certain time period. And so people’s work time creeps up and up.”

    Surely there are enough witnesses to prosecute the employer — privately if necessary — for theft, or to extract backpay under threat of such prosecution.

  16. Paul Burns

    The provision of welfare by the state is intended by the putocrats and oligarchs who run things to keep the plebs quiet. Nothing else matters. Take it away and you get stuff like – well, free shopping – and the London riots. The rulers don’t care if welfare is demeaning or any of the pyher bullshit rhetptic some of the left have bought into. All they require is that the lower orders obey them, willingly preferably, through fear if necessary – hence the punitive welfare rules.
    Do hope that isn’t all too cynical.

  17. Debbieanne

    I wish there was a button to push that says ‘way to go'(like_a lot).

  18. jane

    tssk, my daughter puts in 12-14 hour days and also an extra 8 hours or so on weekends, for which she’s not paid.

    The company’s secret is that she’s a salaried employee and I suspect a lot of people putting in countless hours are also salaried employees. This is one way employers can get the work of an extra employee out of one, for the price of one.

    And being salaried doesn’t necessarily translate into high remuneration as my daughter can attest.

    However, this sort of employment is bad news for the unemployed.

  19. Debbieanne

    But. This cannot happen while the rich and powerful are pulling in such enormous profits while off-shoring more jobs(take BHP sacking 1000). I just wonder that maybe you are fantasising about a world that cannot exist. And, as such, we must lift our/govt support to those less fortunate, and stop demonizing them.

  20. savvy

    “tssk, my daughter puts in 12-14 hour days and also an extra 8 hours or so on weekends, for which she’s not paid. ”

    I thought the Govt workplace reforms fixed all of this?

    Work choices was responsible for all this, or so reading certain posts could lead one to believe.

  21. moz

    Getting money or more staff out of companies that overwork salaried staff seems to be very difficult. I doubt it’s legally theft, as the contracts I’ve seen say “reasonable overtime as required” or words to that effect and define reasonable as “what everyone else in the workplace does”, so you get a race to the bottom, and a lot of presenteeism. “I’m here, therefore I am working” doesn’t actually work, but it’s easy to measure. And if you’re working 60 hour weeks managing people, easy to measure counts for a lot.

    My approach is to push it back and say (explicitly if pushed) “your poor management is no reason for me to work unpaid overtime”. I work the hours I’m paid for and let the people getting the big bucks work the long hours. In my last job my boss was getting roughly the same hourly rate as I was, except that the progressive tax system meant he kept proportionally less of it. But he was happy with that. I felt underpaid and couldn’t get a raise, so I switched jobs and now my hourly rate is higher than his (but my salary is much lower).

    I would much rather have a 35 hour work week or something equivalent (4 days on, four days off would be ideal IMO) and less unemployment. I just don’t see any way to get there from here. And of course, as a taxpayer, I’d much rather we took an evidence-based approach to helping non-tax-payers (at both ends of the scale) change their status.

  22. Marisan

    Well I’ve been unemployed for the last 2 &1/2 years.
    I have qualifications coming out of my arse but I can’t get a job. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m too old, too qualified and too expensive. I can’t even get a base job. They won’t employ me because they know, as soon as a decent job comes up, (One using my qualifications, experience and paying a livable wage) I’ll be gone. They’re dead right.
    One of the last things my Job Network Provider told me was that I had to survive to age 55 (Next week, wish me happy birthday) and then I could do volunteer work for 15 hours a week and stop CentreLink micromanaging my life.
    Been into a charity lately? They have customer service that would put any retailer to shame. Because they’re inundated with volunteers.

    Now my wife has been told by Centrelink that, when our youngest turns 6 she will have to either 1/ get a job or 2/ do a course or 3/ do volunteer work (15 hours per week).
    She’s over the age of 45 (she’d hate me to tell you that) and therefore statistically unlikely to get a job. (Mainly due to Workcover premiums)

    So WTF are we supposed to do?

  23. John D

    Part of the problem is that the benefits of productivity gains go to employers while the cost of looking after the people retrenched as a result of these gains is paid by the government.
    It would be desirable to have a system where the cost of unemployment benefits was paid for by a surtax paid on excessive working hours. It might help focus employer minds on the real effect of what they are doing. It would help too if the surtax assumed that everyone working on a salary was working 80 hrs/week. Might help employers discover the benefits of paying by the hour.
    It would also help if national productivity was measured in terms of production per “available hour.” Available hour might be defined as 40 hrs/week for everyone aged between say 18 and 65 so that the figure cannot be shrunk by reclassifying people as disabled, student etc. Quite a bit of the productivity gains of the 80’s and 90’s came from pushing the less effective workers into unemployment. Might make a companies figures look good but it doesn’t mean that the countries economy is better off.

  24. tssk

    Oddly enough the long hours I did came down a lot when three things happened in quick succession.

    -Illness
    -The general manager was changed (which drastically changed the work culture for the better.)
    -The Lib’s lost power. I was dreading Workchoices because at that point I couldn’t see things getting worse.

    But that’s getting off point. The issue is the current model for ages has been to constantly have a supply of labour just doing nothing. And then to blame them for being part of that pool.

    There is enough work for everyone. It’s just that employers want it both ways. They want to get free or low cost labour and they don’t want to pay for the downside of this ie the unemployed though taxes.

    And the salary thing is dead right too. Companies seem to want to pay salaries so they can pay for 30 hours of labour but expect to recieve 60 hours in return.

    (I’d also argue that the companies would benefit too, I know mine gets a lot more out of my 30 and a bit a week than they did from my 80+.)

  25. adrian

    You are 100% correct tssk and moz. It’s a bloody jungle out there and it’s getting worse.

    But of course none of this is quite good enough for Abbott and his backers.

  26. John D

    We have had over 35 yrs of high unemployment. As a result almost all our managers would have no experience managing in a world with the low unemployment rates we enjoyed before Whitlam started the introduction free markets.
    Managing with continuous high unemployment introduces some bad habits. Managers learn to expect potential employees to get their training elsewhere. Managers can take the easy way out and use skilled employees to do jobs that could be done by the less skilled. Managers learn not to worry too much about the need to retain good employees…
    The situation has been made worse by the move to “education as a business.” Educators grow their business by convincing employers that they really need employees with extra qualifications. Preferably qualifications padded out into one year. Good for the educators but hard for someone who has to convince someone that they can do a job a bit different from the one they are doing…
    Even worse the RBA wants to slow the economy as soon as there is a hint of skill shortage. So companies don’t have to learn to use skilled people efficiently…..

  27. jane

    savvy, that’s why she’s paid a salary. Sounds good, but if you’re on a salary, you’re not paid an hourly rate with the expectation of being paid for overtime.

    And it doesn’t help that her job is really the equivalent of 1½ full time positions.

    And wot moz & tssk said.

  28. jumpy

    [email protected]
    Are you physically capable of driving a truck?
    And willing to live in QLD or WA?
    Can you live on $110,000 pa?
    Could you do 4×12 hours on, 4 days off?

    The mountain seldom moves to Mohammed.

  29. John D

    Jumpy: The 4 days on 4 days off jobs I have known about in Central Qld are like gold. Ditto jobs where the family actually lives on site. Have you ever actually tried to get a mining job in the Pilbara or Central Qld Jumpy?
    Most of the mining jobs are travel in travel out with far less family friendly rosters than equal days on and off.
    By all means try Marisan. My family have lived in mining towns for years and really enjoyed it.

  30. jumpy

    John D
    “””Have you ever actually tried to get a mining job in the Pilbara or Central Qld Jumpy?”””

    No, I already have employment that I am happy with (most of the time)

    I do have friends that have made the transition, and made it work, others have not.
    I’m not saying it’s easy.
    But “it’s there” as someone famous once said.

  31. John D

    Jumpy: Sure it is there and some people do make the transition. But I get sick of hearing the myth about how easy the work is to get.

  32. John D

    Years ago I had this to say about reducing unemployment

    There are many things that contribute to the damage caused by unemployment. One problem is that politicians are unwilling to admit that they haven’t got a quick fix for this shortage of work. As a consequence, the only fixes they are willing to consider seriously involve creating more work and using welfare to alleviate some of the economic pain. That is, when the more scurrilous politicians are not trying to blame the unemployed for unemployment and doing all they can to increase the damage to the unemployed.
    The second problem is that employers that create unemployment by working individuals long hours are not the ones paying the unemployment welfare bill. Peter Brokensha’s recent figures (Australian Options, Autumn 2004) suggest that over 700,000 extra 35 hr/week jobs would be created if nobody averaged more than 45 hrs/week. Perhaps we should go “user pays” and let employers who claim that they save money by working people long hours pay the cost of the unemployment welfare bill? Perhaps too, the union movement might ask itself whether the working class as a whole might not be better of if penalty rates for overtime were traded off for increases in base pay rates. Worker dependence on those hours at double time is part of the reason work-sharing is resisted.
    The third problem is we assume unemployment is automatically damaging and ignore the possibility that there are ways of reducing the damage without reducing unemployment. There are certainly individuals who desperately need work for economic and other reasons. However, there are also those who are not damaged by unemployment and use it as an opportunity to further their education, start a new business or simply seek the perfect wave.

    I believed then and still believe that we need systems that encourage the sharing of the available work. The need has become more important as we realize the damage being done to the environment by an economic system that is addicted to growth. an addiction that is justified by the need to create jobs.

  33. Alex

    Jumpy, finding a job in the mining sector is bloody difficult. I know several people with appropriate qualifications coming out their ears who have been waiting for years. It’s a myth.

  34. wizofaus

    There does seem to be something of a fundamental problem with the original author’s suggestion that unemployment largely exists but businesses have convinced governments that it’s good for the economy to have a pool of unemployed – that logic surely only works if the pool of unemployed largely consists of people that could reasonably be easily be drawn from to replace current workers (who would otherwise demand pay raises or reductions in workload etc.) But significant numbers consist of the long-term unemployed, or older retrenched workers for whom the investment of retraining is unlikely to pay off. Indeed I’d be surprised if the percentage of the unemployed that are sufficiently qualified to provide any measurable tipping of bargaining power towards employers was much more than half. Further, I’d also hazard a guess that for every business that gains from the knowledge that its employees are easily replaceable, there’s another that suffers from the lack of ability to find good employees, and would very happily help to reduce the unemployment pool if it did actually consist of workers who were qualified and able to take up the work on offer. Why businesses in that secondary category are not campaigning harder for governments to return to genuinely effective welfare-to-work programs I can only guess.

  35. Fran Barlow

    JohnD said (years ago apparently)

    Perhaps too, the union movement might ask itself whether the working class as a whole might not be better of if penalty rates for overtime were traded off for increases in base pay rates.

    So you’re saying that unions should make it relatively cheaper for employers to demand overtime? The phrase “perverse incentives” comes to mind. If anything, perhaps overtime should attract double time, or perhaps double time and a half … when the worker hits 45 hours in a given seven-day period.

  36. wizofaus

    Fran, that depends whether the cost to the employer outweighs the perceived benefit to the employee. Even at double time, the employer may well accept that it’s easier and cheaper-in-the-short-run to let their current employees put in extra hours (which there are now super keen to do) than to find additional employees to take on the extra workload.
    A better solution might be to tax all overtime salary at a higher rate, which I’m sure has been suggested before, not sure if it’s been tried anywhere.

  37. Fran Barlow

    Wizofaus said:

    Fran, that depends whether the cost to the employer outweighs the perceived benefit to the employee. Even at double time, the employer may well accept that it’s easier and cheaper-in-the-short-run to let their current employees put in extra hours (which there are now super keen to do) than to find additional employees to take on the extra workload.

    I think that is plausible, though at the margins, some jobs might not make the cut. My point though is that making it cheaper than it is now would probably have and effect the reverse of that suggested by JohnD.

    I don’t see that taxing overtime more harshly would be practicable. We already have somewhat progressive taxation. There would be a temptation to come to local arrangements for a longer working week to avoid the surcharge with negative consequences all round. Also, one might wonder why someone on a base salary of say, $65k, who earned $10k in overtime payments ought to have that $10k taxed more harshly than the last $10k of someone on a base salary of $75k. If their EMRT were similar to someone on $180k that would be seriously inequitable.

    A more serious alternative might be to cap the number of hours that anyone could work in any three month period (excluding official leave periods) e.g. 69 days * 7.5 hours per day = 517.5 hours. Overtime would come out of that allowance, so that if you were getting double time for 5 hours per week, for 69 days you’d be 138 hours over. You’d have 3.6 weeks leave booked in some time during your seventh week of work. Compulsory — no options. If that didn’t suit the employer’s work flow, then the employer would simply have to give you less overtime, or ensure that you got rostered days off regularly during the period.

    Most overtime is time and a half of course, but the principle is the same. Health stats seem to show that working outrageous amounts of overtime is really bad for your health. Spending time in recreation is actually a good thing. Having a day off or two every three weeks to catch up with your family/domestics or get away for a weekend is a good thing. If this rule were enforced, you’d probably have to have suitably trained and experienced people who could step in and cover while people were on leave.

  38. wizofaus

    “Also, one might wonder why someone on a base salary of say, $65k, who earned $10k in overtime payments ought to have that $10k taxed more harshly than the last $10k of someone on a base salary of $75k”

    Because there’s a now an extra strong incentive for that former worker to take on additional training etc. in order to incease their productivity to a point they can achieve a higher disposal income for less work!

    Mandating total hours workable seems on the surface to be even less practical and just as open to abuse. For a start, in no job I’ve worked at in the last 10 years has any employer ever made any attempt to monitor the number of hours I work, and I can’t see how such a system could realistically be introduced.

    I’d also say ‘stick’ measures are probably best coupled with ‘carrot’ measures that provide extra incentives for employers to take on new employees (and part of that is ensuring that existing regulations aren’t making that unnecessarily risky/expensive).

  39. tssk

    During the ‘bad’ period my employer never tracked the work I did above my official working hours.

    Mind you they were all over it if one was to turn up five minutes late or worked 15 minutes under.

    On topic though the other big issue of welfare to work is that most welfare recipients are usually worse off in any transition to full time work. If you don’t cheat the forms most of the time you end up financially worse off. It’s fine if you’re on your own but if you have children and you have to decide between ditching food or rent it’s a tougher ask.

  40. moz

    tssk: the only time a salary-based employer has ever tracked my extra work was in order to dispute my TOIL claim. Which they did by denying that the timesheets they had signed off on had any meaning! Then paying out 2/3 of what they owed me (ie, I lost ~2 weeks time off) on the basis that “it seemed fair”. My lesson there was not to build up that sort of debt, but take it as it was built up. My current job owes me one day off in leiu but I’m having trouble taking it, so that’s all I’m going to risk.

    The welfare to work transition is often not great for singles either – you’re often expected to pay out a lot up front at the same time as you lose the benefit. The transition to dressing properly for work and using peak-hour PT/paying for transport costs money, but as a dole bludger you’re not supposed to have spare cash lying round (and they carefully make sure the dole is somewhat less than the poverty line). So you end up borrowing money to pay for stuff and hoping you actually get paid (I’ve heard too many stories of new jobs where after weeks to months people are “let go”, never having been paid at all – often in hospitality). Of course, this stuff is worse if you’ve got dependents, but it’s not fun for anyone.

  41. Fran Barlow

    Wizofaus quoted me:

    Also, one might wonder why someone on a base salary of say, $65k, who earned $10k in overtime payments ought to have that $10k taxed more harshly than the last $10k of someone on a base salary of $75k”

    then continued:

    Because there’s a now an extra strong incentive for that former worker to take on additional training etc. in order to incease their productivity to a point they can achieve a higher disposal income for less work!

    I’d count additional training required by the employer as part of one’s “work”. I’d also observe that a person who does useful (if they are “producing” more per hour than if they deferred the work until regular working hours) overtime is by definition, increasing their “productivity”.

  42. wizofaus

    tssk – I don’t think there’s anybody who’d argue that EMRTs over 100% are a serious problem. It’s almost hard not to interpret their sheer existence as some sort of evidence that the powers that be see some sort of gain in keeping a fraction of people out of the workforce – if bureaucrats have time to sit around thinking up ways to make the unemployed jump through hoops to claim welfare, they surely could spend it instead ensuring that there is always at least some financial benefit to finding work, no matter how many dependents or disabilities you have. Of course in an ideal world we’d have perfectly progressive EMRTs that would be lowest for those coming off welfare into minimum wage jobs and highest for those on 6 or 7 figure salaries. But such a system would seem to necessarily imply significantly higher total spending on benefits and/or wage subsidies than we have now.

    Fran, perhaps I’m not using the textbook definition of productivity, but I meant “value generated in a normal working week”, or effectively “value generated per hour”. When talking about human beings that need sleep and rest (vs measuring work done by machines), there is a very real difference between ‘hour’ and ‘week’ as a unit of time.

  43. wizofaus

    (BTW, I think I meant ‘dispute’ rather than ‘argue’ above in the first sentence!)

  44. Fran Barlow

    Wizofaus said:

    Fran, perhaps I’m not using the textbook definition of productivity, but I meant “value generated in a normal working week”, or effectively “value generated per hour”. When talking about human beings that need sleep and rest (vs measuring work done by machines), there is a very real difference between ‘hour’ and ‘week’ as a unit of time.

    On that definition, a person who contributes anything of value during overtime is more productive when doing overtime.

    Not the least of the problems in measuring work these days is that you can be at work even on your commute home (via your mobile/iPad) so some of the traditional boundaries between working time and other time have become murky, at least in some professions.

  45. Gummo Trotsky

    People need blummin’ jobs, not welfare.

    Maybe. I’d suggest that what people need is actually secure housing, enough income to provide what Justice Higgins called “reasonable and frugal comfort” in that historic decision and, for their psychological wellbeing, a sense that they are connected and contribute to their community.

    What people don’t need is the routine Centrelink run around, where your benefits (be it Newstart, the DSP or the Age Pension) are administered not from your local Centrelink Office but some remote processing centre in another state or territory (the better to distance the staff from actually seeing the consequences of their actions) and the nasty little alliance between Centrelink’s inquisitors and tabloid TV producing weekly stories on “the Welfare cheats who are ripping off the taxpayer” (as seen on the ACA web-site).

    Saying “people need blummin jobs” just buys into the belief that the only valid way to be connected to the community and contribute to it is paid, profit producing employment.

  46. wizofaus

    “more productive when doing overtime” (my emphasis)

    Except while “doing overtime” they’re working outside of the normal working week, so by my definition of productive, they’re adding nothing to their productivity. But of course absolutely to your ‘blurred boundries’ remark – indeed personally I would find it virtually impossible to measure the number of hours I actually work each week because it’s not uncommon for me to spend a considerable number of minutes each day combining work with other activities. On that basis, realistically any attempt via legislation or collective bargaining to encourage employers to hire more workers doing less rather than fewer doing more is only likely to work in certain industries. However I would suggest those industries employ quite a significant fraction of the national workforce, so I’d like to think there’s still plenty of scope for decreasing unemployment by making overwork a less attractive option for both employers and employees.

  47. John D

    Fran @35: Yes I am saying that base rates should be higher and overtime (but not shift) penalty rates should be lower with the average hourly wage at least equal to what it is now.
    In most of the mines I have worked at most overtime was paid at double time. This meant that there was an enormous incentive to accept overtime and to fight against anything that involved cutting back overtime so that someone without a job could get work. For a typical worker on 50 hrs/week the 10 hrs of overtime accounted for 33% of their income. The enthusiasm for overtime would have been a lot less if overtime penalties were much lower.
    Mining employers were willing to pay double time because it was more economic/practical to work people overtime. For example, on shutdown days the overtime was used to extend the shutdown.
    As a matter of interest, overtime for the drillers I worked with when I started work was paid at 1.25.

  48. zoot

    What Gummo said @45.

  49. Orwellian Child

    I find it strange that in most columns, opinions, tabloid pieces etc about welfare and employment present it as a two-point scale. That is, both sides argue on the basis of a single belief: “If people get off welfare, it means they are working.”

    This basic belief means a number of things. One, the lead-on logic suggests “therefore, people who are not on welfare are working” and “once welfare is removed, people will work” and “the less welfare, the more people will be working instead”.

    This forgets the fact that 1) not all people who are not on welfare work, there are many who are rich/comfortable because of inheritance, marriage, windfalls on the stockmarket etc. 2) not all people who are on welfare are necessarily poor or unemployed. We often forget that concessions and disability care are forms of welfare (more accurately, social security), some people on welfare simply don’t earn enough. 3) there is no guarantee that there are jobs available for everyone if welfare is removed.

    There are lots of reasons for someone to be on welfare. Sometimes it’s a valid disability (mental health disabilities are very hard to judge for an outsider, and sometimes people with severe mental distress are labelled unfairly. Sometimes it is difficult for those from a poor/ill-educated household/suburb to find a job that is rewarding (or a job at all). Sometimes those on welfare are temporarily there due to losing their job, and the humiliating processes of Centrelink can actually reduce one’s will to get back into society.

    This is anecdotal, but it does illustrate how welfare is being run like a charity (it isn’t a national duty anymore, it’s a national burden) is destroying self-esteem and discouraging people from using its services (keeps costs down, but leaves people directionless and stuck in cycles of poverty).

    An engineer lost his job during a company downturn, and for the first time in his life, had to use Centrelink services. As expected of Newstart, he was told that he had to look for 25 jobs a week. Now as most people who actually write successful CVs know, it’s hard to find 25 jobs a week in your area of expertise, let alone tailor 25 CVs to the task. Still, he went away and did that, applying even for jobs that required him to relocate and completely change his lifestyle/social connections, within his field of expertise.

    When he returned to Centrelink, his payments were halted and he was spoken to at length about his ‘responsibilities’ in getting welfare payments, and that he should be getting off welfare as quickly as possible and that’s what Centrelink is trying to facilitate. He can’t look for jobs only in his field of expertise, he is meant to look for ALL jobs he might be able to do. They suggested call centres and super markets and fast food chains.

    The engineer chose instead to get off Centrelink, move back home with his parents, and look for work that way. He had thought Centrelink was the ‘mature’ and ‘independent’ option, but it wasn’t. It is inflexible, attempts to remove people as quickly as possible, and cannot handle events like people on Newstart doing project-based work (if you can’t quantify your freelance work as hourly rates, then it doesn’t count towards having worked and you still have to look for 25 jobs a week, even if you worked 60 hours freelancing that week and report earnings truthfully).

    This actually means that people who rely on Centrelink find it easier to do so by just lying. A common tactic is just to apply for a whole variety of jobs that require one qualification or another that you don’t have, so the staff don’t pick up on the fact you’re ‘expertise/interest-focused’. This method of getting people off welfare follows the idea that “there are jobs if people want it” without looking into whether they will be likely to keep the job, whether there really are long-term jobs, and whether the job is paying non-exploitative rates (hence the mass availability of such jobs).

    Structuring our welfare towards something that actually seeks to match employer with employee by expertise and interest will see much more job-retention. A system that is also flexible and treats its clients as actual people will also get much better responses from those seeking work. If their services were better, they may find that people who don’t need welfare would also use them for job-seeking and training purposes when they lose their jobs, instead of becoming one of the masses that aren’t reliably employed but hate the labelling and humiliation (but are forced to use welfare because they can’t eat otherwise).