The perils of being a jobseeker in Australia

In 1998, the Howard government abolished the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) and replaced it with the Job Network, now known as Job Services Australia (JSA). Essentially this was a privatisation of employment services, handing over responsibility to private job network providers.

In light of the recent exposé by Four Corners in relation to widespread fraud amongst the Job Network, it has emboldened more people to speak up and speak out against their shady practices, and people are standing up and taking notice.

I know what it is like to be unemployed. It is demoralising, soul-crushing. Jobseekers are the political football of both sides of politics. The system demonises jobseekers. It doesn’t help when terms such as “dole bludgers” and “leaners” are thrown around by our elected representatives. By my own personal experience, temp work via reputable recruitment agencies was my saving grace. During the inevitable downtime, I had Newstart to fall back on. I simply reported my pre-tax income to Centrelink when I did my fortnightly reporting.

When you live by yourself, Centrelink is a death knell. All your money goes on rent and bills, and stuff all to feed yourself. If you fall behind on the rent, you face eviction, and you’ll have no money to move to alternative accommodation. Your family and friends wonder if you’re even still alive because they haven’t seen a peep from you, because you have no money to go out anywhere, or phone credit to be able to call them, be it on phone or on Skype.

My own experiences with JSA are all too familiar. From 2012-2013 I was on the Newstart allowance, however I was registered with various temp agencies and I declared my income to Centrelink when I did my fortnightly reporting. The Job Network agency to whom I was assigned, would always harass me to sign forms for them every time I got a temp assignment, so that they could claim money from the government. There was one particular temp agency who, through no fault of their own, caused headaches because they outsourced their payroll to another company. For ease of reference, the recruitment agency I will refer to as KR and their payroll company, ES. I had to constantly explain to the JSA agency that ES were the payroll managers and they were the people who paid my wages into my account, and that I was employed by KR as a temp, and I was deployed to various firms in Melbourne CBD.

Between November 2012 and June 2013, I was on the hospital waiting list for elective surgery, and was in the Category 2 – Semi-Urgent waiting list. For this reason, I remained as a temp until after the convalescence period to be fair on myself, and to a prospective employer. No employer would have even considered me if they took me on, only to be away for a fortnight because of post-op recovery. One firm I temped for were considering taking me on full-time, but they ultimately offered the job to someone else, which I can only attribute to the two-week downtime post-surgery. Before I went in for the surgery, the office manager was trying to coerce me into pushing it back a few months, but wouldn’t listen to me when I explained that my condition was potentially life-threatening and the surgery was absolutely necessary – the sooner, the better. The Job Network Agency didn’t want to understand where I was coming from either. I finally had my surgery in early June 2013.

In early July 2013, I attended my mandatory Job Network appointment, and was shown a job vacancy for a sole practitioner law firm in Preston, VIC. I attended the interview and was given the job, starting the next day. I signed all the necessary paperwork, received phone calls from the JSA agency over the following four weeks to ask me how the job was going. New employer and I agreed on a set wage, and that I would be paid fortnightly.

After a month, the lawyer stopped paying me. The JSA agency were begging me to stay on. The JSA agency stood to benefit because they would get a hefty bonus from the Government as a congratulatory gesture for finding me employment. The lawyer would also stand to benefit, getting a $3000 bonus if I was in his employ for 3 months, and getting wage subsidies as well.  He cried poor and claimed that he didn’t have the money to pay my wages.

I contacted the JSA agency and advised them that he wasn’t paying me, and that he would get aggressive and unapproachable if I even questioned him. He also got aggressive and unapproachable if I asked him for more work, when I completed the tasks he asked me to perform. His office was a shambles, but every time he asked me to get his files organised, he got aggressive and abusive every time I asked him which files were current and which files were closed!

After three weeks and I had still not seen a paycheck, I contacted the JSA agency again and told them that he hadn’t paid me. They told me to hang in there, and stay around and “see what happens”. After a month had passed and I still hadn’t seen any money, I lodged a complaint to Fair Work Australia. I also began to look for work elsewhere, finding alternative employment in early September 2013. I handed in my resignation to my then-current employer, much to his disgust and JSA agency’s disappointment. I felt that no one was listening to me when I told them that my employer had no intention of paying the wages he owed me. He expected me to borrow money from friends so that I could get the bus in to work every day. I had to forgo a trip to Sydney for a close friend’s 40th birthday celebrations because he didn’t pay me.

And the day the Fair Work Ombudsman rang him, was the day I saw the lawyer’s true colours. They contacted him on his mobile, and I could hear him in his office screaming obscenities down the phone to the clerk. After the phone call finishes, he steps out of his office, looks at me like a stunned mullet and says to me, “You have some real cheek doing that, don’t you?” The clerk then calls me, and I go to walk out to take the phone call in privacy. He grabs me by the shoulder and says, “Where the hell do you think you’re going, taking a personal call on my time?” and proceeded to snatch my phone from my hand, telling the clerk on the other line to not bother to call me again. I told her I would call back later.

Boss then sits me down, and proceeds to call me a whole host of insults and obscenities. He then tells me, “You do realise that you are going to cost me three grand?” Well, I was more concerned about getting kicked out of my flat because I hadn’t been able to pay my rent because he hadn’t paid me. The barrage of insults continued, and I told him that respect had to be earned, though I had to assert myself just to get him to back off. He then said, “Oh really? Say that again,” and took his iPhone out and hit ‘record’, to record a video. I calmly left his office, but he was chasing me around the office with his phone camera on ‘record’. I was eventually able to get out, with him ordering me to leave the office. When I left, I was able to call the clerk at the Ombudsman’s office and tell her what had happened. I also told the JSA agency everything that had happened.

After I started in my new role, the JSA agency were calling me and harassing me to sign forms with the details of my new employer, and the forms I was asked to sign gave the impression that they had found me this work, which they didn’t. In relation to my previous employer, I later discovered that, among other things, he had been disciplined by the Legal Services Commissioner for professional misconduct. I had pursued the recovery of my unpaid wages through the courts, and was granted a Warrant for Possession and sent the Sheriff to his office, but to date he has not paid a cent to me. I can only hope that public shame will turn the tides and he will cough up the dough.

After all of that, the JSA network who sent me there in the first place, simply washed their hands of me. And I’ll probably never work for a sole practitioner ever again.

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About meganmasters2015

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a child, I would create characters and write about their adventures. This continued through my teenage years. I am studying Certificate IV in Professional Writing and Editing. After I complete this course, I can become an editor, copywriter and freelance for writing research reports, journals and content for different media. I also have a profile on NaNoWriMo, and I achieved my 50,000 words for 2014.
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One Response to The perils of being a jobseeker in Australia

  1. Pingback: The Wonderful World of Online Gaming | Wordsmiths, Storytellers and the trials of life

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