Worse than useless

Bury privatised employment services

I’m not a big reader of The Guardian but this story by Van Badham is true. Privatised employment services have to go.

“A parliamentary inquiry report on 30 years of privatised employment services is out and it is damning.

Workforce Australia issues the largest spend on contracts from the government – second only to defence – yet it’s inefficient, fractured, “broken” and responsible for holding back Australia’s economy by failing to supply the labour the country needs.

We’ve had thirty years of pointless personal “resume writing workshops” in communities where unemployment resulted from shared structural realities of collapsing industries and offshoring.

Thirty years of vacuous chats with “job specialists” who were, in many cases, less qualified or experienced than the people obliged to take their advice on employment prospects in industries they knew less than nothing about.

Thirty years of dole diaries and “mutual obligations” and the ridiculous insistence we constantly applied for jobs we could never do. This last caused despondency in jobseekers, frustrated employers and achieved the rare accomplishment of wasting literally everybody’s time.

I crashed headfirst into this system during several bouts of unemployment. From job rejection to job rejection (memorably, I got rejected from a job at … the Reject Shop) to the “job club” photocopying group workshops and the individual resume-writing consultations, the unique “hysteresis” that afflicts the unwillingly idle unemployed metastasised in me to a full-blown nervous breakdown.

It was a scheme that incentivised failure; its private providers could only profit from service provision to the unemployed while there remained unemployed people to service. Handily, the report reveals they were terrible at finding people jobs. This, despite labour shortages all over Australia.

Almost 500,000 people have been using the privatised employment services for over a year. Fifty thousand people – 50,000! – had been on their books for 10 years!

The privatisation of employment services is another legacy of John Howard, and the Friedmanite economic ideology of small government and trickle-down prosperity he and his fans pursued despite the inconvenient burden of observable evidence.

The task ahead for Labor to reform the system beyond denouncing it is unenviable, given the dehumanising twin tropes of the “dole bludger” and “fat cats” of the public service have now been in poisonous circulation since shadowy conservative thinktanks inserted them into the discourse at the time unemployment spiked during the oil shocks of the 1970s.

Persuading Australians after 50 years that the unemployed are the structural consequence of deliberate policies designed to create a “reserve army of labour” and keep wages low rather than aspirational aristocrats extorting taxpayer funds to play the lute is not as easy a task as it should be.

The whole sorry saga reveals a strange paradox in which the unemployed have been collectively, uniformly punished for a structural problem, when the response to the structural problem should’ve been confronting barriers to employment by meeting individual needs. All of us, from government, to employers to, God help us, the unemployed, have instead been made to learn the lesson that the market has its limits – by smacking our faces into an economic brick wall.”

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