The ACTU has lashed the federal government for planning an “enhanced” work-for-the-dole program, warning Holden workers facing the loss of their job could end up picking garbage.
The peak union body’s president, Ged Kearney, said the plan to expand the work program for unemployed people would not necessarily provide pathway back into the workforce.
The Coalition government is looking to start its ''enhanced'' work-for-the-dole program in the next financial year, with a focus on young unemployed Australians.
Ms Kearney said that with unprecedented pressure on the manufacturing sector and a softening labour market – Treasury forecast a rise in the unemployment rate to 6.25 per cent in the mid-year budget update – the federal government should stop “blaming workers and trying to drive down wages”.
"This government is trying to create a diversion from the fact that it doesn’t have a policy to create jobs to deal with the softening labour market, and it has no manufacturing plan. It didn’t help Holden, it won’t assist Qantas. It has nothing to say or do but to punish people who can’t get a job," she said.
"These changes may impact Holden workers, some of whom are 50 year old men, highly skilled, and who might find it tough to find a job when the company stops making cars. Should these people be picking up litter?"
"Pushing down wages, ramping up work for the dole, this is all we hear from Tony Abbott. Let’s talk about skill and training, not three-month jobs."
Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker told Fairfax Media on Monday that under current plans, work-for-the-dole participants could be working in team projects, such as building a walkway or maintaining gardens or undertake placements in not-for-profit organisations.
He argued work-for-the-dole improved job seekers' prospects and taught them necessary ''soft skills'' such as dressing appropriately for the workplace and turning up to work on time.
Mr Hartsuyker stressed that the government's plans were still ''very much a work in progress'' but said the Coalition hoped it would be ''operational in the next financial year''.
Work-for-the-dole was introduced by the Howard government but scaled back under Labor.
In its current form, after 12 months, jobseekers between 18 and 49 are generally required to participate in a "work experience activity" - where work-for-the-dole is one option - for six months out of a 12-month period.
A work experience activity could also include volunteering in the community sector – such as working with elderly or disabled people – work on conservation projects or part-time study.
After this 12-month period, most job seekers are required to participate in a work experience activity for 11 months out of every 12-month period.
As part of its election commitments, the Abbott government pledged to ''restore work-for-the-dole for those under 50 who have been on income support for six months or more''.
On Monday, Mr Hartsuyker explained that he was re-examining the work-for-the-dole program as part of a broader review into Job Services Australia aimed at cutting red tape.
He said the government was moving forward ''very slowly, very methodically'' with its review and was mindful that work-for-the-dole jobs should not displace paid positions.
Mr Hartsuyker did not confirm reports that work-for-the-dole participants would be forced to collect rubbish.
When asked if the revamped Coalition model would make work-for-the-dole compulsory, he said that there would be a ''very strong onus on job seekers'' to participate in the scheme if they were not studying or could not find a job.
When asked if dole payments would be withheld for those who did not comply, he said that the withdrawal of benefits ''could be a sanction that could be applied''.
''The exact detail of how that would work, we're currently working through at the moment,'' he said.
Last week, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews announced a review into Australia's welfare system, with a focus on unemployment benefits and disability payments. The Coalition has also flagged financial incentives for young welfare recipients to move to regional towns for work and for young unemployed people who find and stay in a job for twelve and 24 months.
According to the government, about 805,000 Australian job seekers are on some for of income support.
Australian Council of Social Service policy director Jacqueline Phillips described compulsory work-for-the-dole programs as "ineffective, costly and harsh".
"Past experience shows that work-for-the-dole programs do not help people get jobs. Under the previous Coalition government's scheme, only about one in three participants were still employed three months after the program," she said.
"The money would be far better invested in programs which we know work ... like Wage Connect [which provides a subsidy for employers who employ long-term unemployed job seekers on a continuing basis].
''Nearly half the participants in Wage Connect were in paid employment at the end of the six-month program."
Labor employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor blasted Mr Hartsuyker on Monday for what he described as a ''rehashed election announcement''.
Mr O'Connor said it was alarming that after almost five months in government, the Coalition could not provide any details of its policy.
"Where are the concrete details when it comes to this expanded work-for-the-dole scheme? How much will it cost, how will it work and how many people will be involved?''
The employment spokesman told Fairfax Media that not only was the Coalition's idea ''not new, the evidence suggests it doesn't work''.
"People on Newstart and other income support payments already have strict requirements to make sure they are looking for work or studying, and there are penalties for failing to meet those requirements. This is about the government trying to get a good headline – they aren't helping a single person into a good, stable job."
Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh argued that work-for-the-dole had been proven to be ineffective.
''The challenge with work-for-the-dole is what the evidence says,'' he says.
He pointed to a 2004 Melbourne University study of work-for-the-dole, which found the program had a ''large and significant adverse effect on the likelihood of exiting unemployment payments''.
The study suggested that those on work for the dole were hampered by a ''lock-in effect,'' which reduced the time they spent looking for paid work.