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CIVIL CONSCRIPTION OR RECIPROCAL OBLIGATION: THE ETHICS OF `WORK-FOR-THE-DOLE'.

The Coalition parties campaigned on the need to create `real jobs' during the 1996 Federal election. After a number of years in office joblessness, both for young people and prime age workers, remains as high as ever. Yet as major companies and government agencies continued to downsize their work force, the Coalition government decided to respond to this central social problem by introducing a `new' plan that initially required some young people (between the age of 18-24 years) to work for their unemployment benefits. Those `eligible' for participation in the program have been extended from its original `youth target' to included older people. Prime Minister Howard maintained that his `work for the dole scheme' will give priority to the long-term unemployed and thereby help jobless young people, who he claims have lost the incentive to work and/or become welfare dependents, to re-enter the labour market (DEETYA, 1998).

In the first part of this article I query official justifications for the Australian workfare scheme; concentrating on the arguments for reciprocal obligation, I ask what those rationales indicate about government understandings of the causes of unemployment. In the later part of the article I assess the value of the scheme in terms of certain human rights criteria, arguing that it contravenes the Australian constitutions which prohibit any form of civil conscription.

As I indicate, the workfare scheme provides little if any reasonable economic justifications, and none have been advanced by the Howard government. Although I concentrate on the Howard government's work-for-the-dole policy initiative, it needs to be made clear that the principle of reciprocal obligation is not unique to the Liberal National Coalition government, it provides the basis for similar programs in the UK, USA and Canada. It was also embedded in the Keating Labor government's `Working Nation' and has been practiced within many Aboriginal communities for many years.

Considerable attention has been given to the moral and quasi-sociological claims about the role of paid employment in maintaining `the fabric of society'. Here we see the government drawing heavily on a classic liberal contractarian theory of mutual rights and obligations (Yeatman 1997). This is done in conjunction with the other assumptions that inform government understandings of the causes of unemployment. These assumptions, I agrue, are deeply problematic. At a time when the unequal distribution of employment constitutes a major social problem of our era, the Howard government's proposals are an exercise in affirming a nostalgic ethic of work. With consideration to certain human rights perspectives, any value that its proponents might claim are outweighed by the affront to human rights which the program entails.

The Employment Context of Workfare

The distribution of full-time paid employment has become more unequal, more uncertain and insecure in Australia since 1975 (Dusseldorp Skills Forum 1998; Latham 1998).

The problem of work now encompasses three critical elements:

* The trend towards the unequal distribution of paid employment. This is characterised by the emergence of high levels of long term unemployment in conjunction with a shift to longer hours of employment for many of those in full-time employment. Further, unemployed young people (15 to 24 years) constitutes up to thirty-eight percent of all unemployed people in Australia (Spiering and Spoer 1996:1; Dusseldorp 1998).

Nearly 12 per cent of the total population aged between 15 and 24 or 15.7 per cent of the 15-24 year old labour force, were unemployed (Spiering & Spoer 1996:1).

And as Wooden explains young people have been disproportionally affected by these shifts in the labour market:
 ... the changing structure of the teenage labour market has actually acted
 to the cost of teenage labour (Wooden 1998:29).


* There is a trend towards the unequal distribution of paid employment internationally. This is occurring as some economies de-industrialise as they introduce new technologies and modes of work organisation that permanently reduce their requirements for labour. This is happening while other nations engage in modernisation/industrialisation processes that involve dramatic increases in the size of their industrial workforces (Latham 1998).

* Finally, the Australian labour market is characterised by significant increases in part-time and casual labour, accompanied by an increased uncertainty of employment conditions and income (Campbell 1996; Hardin and Kapuscinski 1997).

Whether we can, or should return to the social, economic and policy conditions that characterised the era of full-time (male) employment between 1945-75 is highly questionable. The question needs to be asked, whether such a `recovery' would be conditional on the restoration of particular inequitable social arrangements, like prejudicial gender and racial relations, which promoted those `golden years'.

The difficulties associated with the redistribution of employment plus the underlying dynamics which are moving us towards a post employment society (Rifkin 1994) indicate that increasing the rates of growth in GDP is, on its own, not enough to reduce Australia's levels of unemployment. The simplistic growth in GDP argument ignores problems like the effects of particular components of growth: a surge in imports for example will produce an increase in GDP and have a negative effect on jobs. More money, more profit, a higher GDP simply does not translate into more jobs (Productivity Commission 1999). In other words, unemployment is not simply a symptom of business-cycle downturns. We appear to be facing a turn towards a post-full-time work society, if a `work society' means certain prescriptions about a central role for particular forms of labour along with a range of supportive social institutions (like older patterns of gendered access to the labour market).

Unemployment is a national problem that is caused and driven by both national and global dynamics. As research shows:

* there are insufficient full-time jobs available for the numbers of young people seeking full-time work (Dusseldorp 1998; ACOSS 1996; Crooks, Webb, Foster 1996)

* the fiscal burden on governments of supporting the unemployed and the under-employed will continue to increase for some time.

Participation in the labour markets in most OECD countries became a problem in the late 1960s and 1970s. Globalisation, new managerial practices and the application of new technologies have seen an increase in unemployment rates and threatened the legitimacy of our traditional public policies and notions of social order. These observations provide a necessary backdrop for evaluating the new Australian workfare, or work-for-the dole scheme.

The Coalition Government's Work-for-the-Dole Plan

In February 1997 Prime Minister John Howard announced a trial `work-for-the-dole' plan for young people. In its early formulation, long-term unemployed young people from selected regional and rural areas were to be required to work as a condition for receipt of their unemployment allowance. The target group was young people aged between 15 to 24 years who were in receipt of a full rate allowance, with priority given to those unemployed for more then 12 months. Participants were to be paid at award rates and work for the number of hours equivalent to the amount of their dole payment. Initially Howard admitted being unclear about what kind of work jobless young people would do. However he:
 ... pointed to recent programs in which young people met and greeted
 travellers at Sydney tourist attractions and work programs developed by
 community organisations (Age, 10 February 1997, A: 1).


This comment gave some indication of his intentions regarding the nature of the activities in which young people would be required to engage. It also provides some insights into the degree of thought that went into the initial planning of the scheme.

By March 1997 the scheme had been refined a little more as the Prime Minister Howard announced that the scheme would see young unemployed people working on community projects (SMH, 14 March 1997; see also DEETYA 1998). The work the participants were to undertake would typically involve:
 ... maintenance and improvement in community facilities and infrastructure,
 the development of new facilities and infrastructure and programs of
 community care and assistance (for example, home maintenance and care of
 the elderly) (Social Security Legislation Bill 1997, Explanatory
 Memorandum).


Young people aged between 18 to 20 years were required to work for 24 hours per fortnight, while those over 21 were required to participate for 30 hours per fortnight. The immediate aim was to have 10,000 young people working in the scheme in its initial stage, while the cost for the first year of the scheme was estimated to be $15 million. Quite quickly those pilot work-for-the-dole projects were expanded to fill 25,000 places for 1998-1999 (Kemp DEETYA 1998:1; Centrelink nd, a).

The projects are selected according to what is judged to be the sponsor's capacity to monitor and maintain the project and the extent to which the project supports the local community. Under the Common Youth Allowance introduced in 1 July 1998 all long term jobless people under the age of 25 years who were unemployed for over 6 months were required to engage in some form of training or education(1) or were compelled to work for the dole (DSS 1998). Those failing to meet these requirements (and who are not exempt) have their unemployment benefits reduced (Centrelink nd: b). Yet, despite the fact that work-for-the dole is not a labour market program, the DEETYA Minister David Kemp argued that the additional activities were justified because they will help young people increase their skills levels and work experience (DSS 1998; DEETYA media release, K52/98, 1 July 1998). Here Yeatman's observations of this new `paternalism' become apparent. She notes how advocates of mutual obligation argue that government have an active role in re-shaping the behaviour of welfare recipients. Indeed the perceived absence of a Durkeimian `moral education' is said to make it necessary for the state to step in. Reporting on the work of writers such as Mead (1997), Yeatman notes that:
 ... agencies which act on behalf of society, need to step in and offer the
 direction and structure that permits individuals to acquire the capacity
 and skills for self-regarding and socially responsible choice (Yeatman
 1999:4).


This `distinctive kind of paternalism' Yeatman rightfully argues involves a particular kind of neo-Durkheimian version of Rousseau's paradox: the necessity of forcing individuals to be free (ibid: 5).

Acknowledging the paternalistic features of mutual obligation, what other defences are given for proposals that we need to return to 1930s to find a precedent when government compelled the unemployed to work for the dole?

Moral Justifications and the Compulsion to Work in Exchange for Income Security

There are two primary sets justifications given for compelling jobless people to work in exchange for income security. One set is moral, the other is based on claims about what are seen to be the causes of unemployment. I turn now to an examination of the first set of justifications -- the moral accounts.

One type of justification is grounded in liberal contractarian theory that identifies employment as critical in legitimating citizenship rights while also specifying a set of reciprocal obligations to the community. The justification relates to argument about the role played by paid employment as a social and moral integrative mechanism of special significance in the adjustment/transition phase that adolescents are said to make as they move towards `adult responsibilities'. It also relates to the ethical underpinnings of the modern state (Marshall 1950; Esping-Anderson 1990).

The defence of the work-for-the-dole program has relied on moral arguments which in turn depended on the perceived role of employment in securing reciprocal obligation, notions of fairness and justice, self-reliance and personal responsibility and choice. The introduction to the work-for-the-dole was framed in terms of a need by government to promote the moral integrity of the community by ensuring that the community is not exploited. As Senator Jocelyn Newman, Minister for Social Security explained:
 Australians [are] sick and tired of being taken for mugs by dole bludgers
 (Herald Sun, 9 March 1996).


This illustrates Yeatman's point that it is not enough, from the perspective of mutual obligation advocates, that the individual is capable of exercising choice; rather:
 ... the emphasis is switched to whether the individual is morally educated
 in a way that makes him/her capable of the kind of choice that can sustain
 him/her and society. This is the Durkeimian component of the rhetoric of
 mutual obligation. Durkheim argued that the voluntary dimension of contract
 (choice) can work on behalf of social order to the extent that it is
 informed by a normative adherence to the behaviours on which social order
 depends (Yeatman 1999: 7-8).


Prime Minister John Howard justified the implementation of the work-for-the-dole scheme on the grounds that it had the support of most Australians, who allegedly strongly supported the idea because `it was fair'.
 Work for the dole is based on a principle of mutual obligation: that is, it
 is fair and just that people be asked to work in return for payment of
 unemployment allowance (DEETYA, a 1997, p. 1; DEETYA 1998).


One year later the persistence of this argument was evident when David Kemp reiterated that:
 The community is willing to financially support young people looking for
 work. In return, it is fair and reasonable that those receiving that
 support ... get the skills necessary to get a job ... These extra
 activities will give young people practical support that will significantly
 their chance of getting a keeping a job (DEETYA, Media Release, K52/98 1
 July 1998; see also DEETYA 1998: 1).


Are we to understand the Minister as saying that jobs are currently available, that young people are unemployed just because they lack `skills', and that acquiring the necessary skills will allow them to achieve employment? This relates to the explanations given for unemployment which are examined later in the article.

For Howard, work-for-the-dole is an equitable program because it provides opportunities to establish a balance between rights exercised by citizens and the obligations of citizens to their community. If jobless people are able to work in return for `the dole' they receive then they ought to do so (Age, 1 March 1997). According to Howard it is a question of mutual responsibility. If `real' working Australians are required to earn a living through their labour and enterprise -- from which they pay taxes that support the unemployed -- then it is only `fair' that unemployed young people reciprocate by `giving something back' in exchange for their social security allowance.
 If society gives people a safety net of support ... it [is] reasonable that
 society [asks] something in return (Howard, Age, 8 April 1997: see also
 Age, 11 February 1997, A2).


Compounding their moral obligations, the LNC government claimed it was their responsibility, and part of their mandate, to show young people that they could no longer expect to get `something for nothing'. According to such announcements work-for-the-dole is righteous because it helps young people by offering them the chance to `give back to the community', and to appreciate the `fact' that receipt of an `allowance' carries obligations and ought not be seen as a `hand out'. The success of this justification owes much to its claim of being righteous. Indeed it appeals sentiments of virtue that strikes at the consciences of many Australians who like to identify their moral life in terms of fairness, honesty and equity.

The account of reciprocal obligation, employment and the work ethic offered by the Howard government, builds on a classic liberal view of citizenship reflected in the work of people such as Marshall (1950) and later Pixley (1993). Proponents of this view assume that a condition of normal independent citizenship involves having the right and obligation to participate fully in the life of a liberal society. A primary way of securing citizenship in this sense is through paid employment. Citizenship means participation in the labour market, receipt of a living wage, the ability to be a consumer and an adequate standard of living. Employment also demonstrates the individual's moral character, their capacity to be independent and able to meet their civic obligations. This position is expressed as a defence of a `work ethic' while also providing a basis for claims that government ought to secure `full employment' as a priority of national social and economic policy.

This civic view of waged work is supplemented by a sociological and common sense accounts of the normative-integrative role played by employment. Paid work has traditionally been seen as having a twofold role. Firstly it provides a source of income and productivity, and secondly it is seen to provide a moral-social integrative influence in the lives of young people. It is this `ethic of work' which informs the justifications offered by the Howard government for its work-for-the dole scheme.

A clear illustration of the government's commitment to the `ethic of work' is found in the Second Reading speech introducing the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Work for the Dole) Bill:
 The value of the Work for the Dole initiative lies in bringing young
 unemployed people back into a work culture to help instil a positive
 attitude to work. It will give young people a chance to engage with the
 community rather than being alienated from it ... The Government considers
 the Work for the Dole initiative will combat the drift to despair and
 despondency felt by many unemployed young people. The Government consider
 young job seekers should be given the chance to add their experience and
 prove their work ethic through participation in projects which are
 supported by the community ... (Second Reading Speech, Social Security
 Legislation Amendment Bill 1997).


Government publicity for the work-for-the-dole scheme also points to the value attributed to waged work, in terms of the sense of self-worth ascribed to it. High levels of youth unemployment are said to make it apparent `... how a young [jobless] person may feel of little or no value ... ':
 That`s why John Howard recently announced a `Work for the Dole' initiative.
 To help keep our young people motivated while they are looking for work. To
 help make sure they don't feel left out by society (The Work for the Dole
 Initiative, DEETYA, nd).


The ethical values assigned to waged labour in combination with governing perceptions that `the unemployed' (especially `jobless youth') are unable to integrate into `society' confers a moral significance to being young and unemployed. As Foucault pointed out, the causes of poverty have been defined not in terms of a scarcity of a commodity, but rather in terms of the weakening of morality and discipline (Foucault 1965: 35). Others also have pointed out more recently (Watson 1994; Bessant 1996), that dominant discourses about adolescence and recent `discoveries' of a `underclass' identify the absence of paid employment as a key cause of disorder.

In the older industrial moral-economy work provided a primary means for securing the `proper' socialisation -- especially in the case of young people entering their respective `roles' as workers and citizens. Due to its perceived moral/social integrative function, waged work was seen as important for ensuring that the standard pattern of phases in the life-cycle were followed; moreover, it was deemed necessary for establishing a social order. Within the new work for-the-dole scheme lies the attempt to draw on and re-instate the moral and social-integrative values traditionally attached to paid employment.

A Response: Citizenship Obligations or Social Coercion?

In the official justifications of the work-for-the dole scheme two distinctions exist. The first rests on claims that it helps secure a balance between citizenship rights and obligations which are grounded in a liberal tradition. The second distinction rests on claims that assume a normative/sociological role for paid employment in securing social and moral consensus.

The first set of legitimations are usually defended by referring to certain entitlements underpinning the liberal tradition (Thompson 1950). This framework may have been appropriate for Western nations prior to the mid 1970s characterised by high demands for full-time work, however in the current context such a defence of waged work is not credible. The material and socio-economic transformations that have taken place, especially the shifts with the distribution and availability of paid employment since 1975, make problematic the liberal-citizenship tradition. Those transformations also call into question claims about the integrative role of employment as well as claims that waged work provides the basis for securing a normative transition from adolescence to adulthood.

This refers to a perceived link between the ethics of citizenship, waged work, the alleged integrative role of employment and our ability to provide waged work for all those who want it. An ethical requirement or reciprocal obligation can only exist, be enforced or promoted when the means for its actualisation also exist. There is no commitment by government at the moment to create jobs as part of the reciprocal process, nor was there under a Hawke-Keating government. There is no value in attempting to establish and maintain an ethical obligation that requires job-seekers to work if that work is not available. Given the fact that current demands for waged work outweigh the supply of jobs available, and given the failure of successive governments to demonstrate a commitment to job creation, continued claims that `the unemployed' have moral obligations to work even though there is insufficient work available are themselves unethical.

Given our incapacity to make paid employment available for all who want it, we confront a major obstacle in attempting to re-assert the `ethic of work'. We now have the technological ability to create the material conditions that enable us all to live well. That transformation in our material circumstances has made an ethical obligation or ethical system to require people to work both questionable and redundant.

The fact that there are tensions between our existing material capacity to create and sustain work opportunities and an insistence on a contrary ethical code raises a number of questions. For example, is there any value in maintaining the argument that paid employment is good and necessary if the means for securing it for everyone is not actually promoted by government? It is a matter of record that no Australian government since the mid- 1970s has actually and actively promoted the realisation of full-employment. This is a fact that makes the promotion of a `work ethic' suspect and itself morally void.

Nostalgic reiteration about the moral or social value of paid employment can too easily become an obstacle to working out how we can respond to questions about how we can and ought to live in such a world. Culturally and psychologically the work ethic may remain deeply ingrained in our collective identity; however, the transformations in the workplace that have taken place make such older normative and cultural assertions about employment redundant. The significance many of us attribute to work is tied to the fact that our job provides the basis of our earnings as well as our identity. Yet, as Beck explained we are now living with the ethical and cultural shock resulting from the decline of an industrial, labour society (Beck 1993: 139). We are in transition from a full-employment industrial society to a post-industrial post-full-employment society. We are also moving from a system of life-long full-time work organised in single or limited industrial locations, to a social order characterised by unemployment, and increasingly `flexible', pluralised insecure under-employment (Beck 1993: 143).

If Beck`s analysis is in any way accurate, then those insisting that jobless ought to be compelled to work for the purpose of promoting social integration are attempting to develop a sense of security by adhering to obsolete paradigms. They are paradigms which accept industrial culture as a given and assume that a return to full employment is imminent or unproblematic.

Deficits that Make them Unemployable

I now turn to certain assumptions about the causes of unemployment which underlie the work-for-the-dole scheme. I refer here to policies that force jobless people to work in exchange for a subsistence `allowance'. In particular I refer to claims that the activities provided will provide jobless people with the skills they currently lack, reinvigorate their commitment to the work ethics, lift their self esteem, help develop their self discipline etc. All this we are told will provide unemployed people with ability to `obtain and keep a job' (Kemp, DEETYA media release K52/98 1 July 1998; DEETYA 1998; Centrelink nd: a). Such statements assume that many people are without full-time work because they are wanting in terms of the required skills, self discipline and commitment to the work ethic. We are told that those already in a relatively weak position, allegedly by virtue of their inexperience and employment status, are the cause their own disadvantage. This is because they have `deficits' that make them unemployable. This raises a number of questions about why unemployment actually exists. Is it because `the jobless' have certain failings deficits etc? Is it because the education system has failed to equip jobless young people with the attributes necessary in the modern work-force, or are there other reasons? Moreover, will the work-for-the-dole scheme redress these problems? I now turn to these questions.

Mythologising the Unemployed

As well as moral/sociological justifications just outlined, the government relies on specific sets of problem-setting discourses around long term unemployed, particularly young people in making its argument for work-for-the dole schemes. This was especially the case with its introduction of work-for-the-dole and `targeting' of young people.

Popular understanding about the causes of unemployment, and to a lesser degree the economic downturn itself, have focussed on the individual jobless person (Hughes 1998). This is an argument that had particular currency when applied to young people -- the original `targets' of work-for-the dole programs.

Jobless people allegedly failed to become employed due to their `bad' attitudes towards work, because they lacked discipline, could not successfully present themselves at interviews, or because they lacked the necessary skills in literacy and numeracy. In other words, it was the individual's passivity, laziness, lack of discipline and skills that prevented them from getting a job. Yet, despite this persistence and prevalence of such stories, most young people want to work. As one government report on youth consultations explained:
 The overwhelming response from young people when asked what their
 aspirations are, is that they want a job. For some it was a specific job,
 for many, any job would do. This should send a strong message to the
 community who think that the young unemployed do not want to work -- they
 do (DEET, Youth Bureau, 1995: 2, cited in YACvic, 1997).


The problem in setting discourses that underpin the work-for-the dole scheme assign jobless people, especially young jobless people, with responsibility for their unemployment. A classic example of this approach was evident in the 1996 national media campaign against the Paxton family when Shane, Mark and Bindy Paxton were systematically ridiculed, castigated and demonised for being young and jobless.(2)

Bruce Ruxton, President of the Victorian RSL supports the idea of compelling young people to partake in specific activities. He suggested military training programs because they would `teach them discipline' and remind them:
 ... that they are not the only people on earth. It would also improve their
 standard of dress and personal hygiene (Age, 8 April 1997).


Here it is the below standard clothing and cleanliness of young people is what makes them unemployable.

Other social commentators like P.P. McGuiness express similar sentiments in his article on work-for-the-dole:
 The inability to get out of bed on time, the unwillingness to face up to
 regular and often boring jobs, the preference for dressing and appearing as
 one's peers rather than according to some boring middle class person's
 standard are all common and understandable traits in the young. Of course
 pressure to conform in hair length, in dress and style can justifiably be
 resisted -- but there is always a price on nonconformity.

 It is not always a bad thing for a degree of social coercion to be
 exercised on the young -- indeed modern industrial society is the only one
 in which post puberty young are not subjected to enormous disciplinary
 pressures to conform to social norms ... (McGuiness, Age, 12 February 1997:
 A15).


The notion that the work-for-the-dole scheme will animate otherwise `idle' people enjoys popular appeal, as a 1997 Morgan and Banks Job Index Survey of 3200 employers indicated:
 Even menial labor would instil a work ethic and develop a greater sense of
 self-worth in the unemployed (Age, 7 May 1997: A2).


All this provides solid ground for official legitimisations of work-for-the-dole. As Prime Minister Howard explained the scheme was:
 ... an effort to stop young people getting into a cycle of not working and
 developing a long term dependency on welfare benefits (Age, l0 February
 1997: A1; see also, Age, 11 February 1997:A11).


The mandatory nature of work-for-the dole reinforces the view that personal inadequacies are inherent in `the unemployed' and that a little coercion will `fix' that problem.

While much of the publicity around the work-for-the-dole scheme stressed individual deficiencies as a cause of unemployment, there has been the occasional official acknowledgment that young people, `through no fault of their own' have been disadvantaged by `structural' changes to the labour market. In apparent denial of his other claims that skills would enable jobless young people to gain and keep a job, Kemp admitted that:
 The Government recognises that the particular disadvantages young people
 face in getting jobs are structural -- the low skilled jobs that young
 people used to take on leaving schools have gradually disappeared and those
 jobs that remain are increasingly being taken by older and more experienced
 job seekers (Second Reading Speech, Social Security Legislation Amendment
 Bill 1997:2).


If policy-makers and politicians recognise that unemployment results from structural changes in the labour market and so on, why then insist that job seekers be forced to work for unemployment benefits?

Furthermore, acknowledging that jobless people are disadvantaged by `structural' changes in labour market (changes over which they have no personal control) weakens government claims about there being a need to `police' young unemployed people on moral grounds (ie: to teach the lessons of reciprocation).

Critical Replies

Identifying the unemployed people as the cause of the unemployment problem reflects either:

(1) a major mis-reading of the causes of youth unemployment (and unemployment generally);

(2) a political strategy designed to deflect attention away from the actual causes and current policies.

There is no evidence to support claims that poor attitudes towards work, being disorganised or other personal/family `deficits' are the primary source of unemployment. The high levels of unemployment in the 1990s are not caused by a reluctance on the part of most jobless people to work. High levels of unemployment are the result from:

* globalisation:

* the exportation of unskilled and semi-skilled labour to `developing' countries; and

* the application of labour saving technology in industries which once offered most young people their first employment opportunities and first step in a life-long career.

Problem-setting discourses that construct jobless people as the cause of unemployment misdiagnose the problem, and in doing so generate solutions that do not address the source of large scale unemployment. This has the affect of producing policies that are ineffective because they fail to address the actual causes of the problems they set out to fix.

It is significant that the official justifications for the work-for-the-dole scheme have not in any way been economic. Instead they assume a moral or quasi-sociological character, reliant on assumptions about the regulatory value of work and deficits allegedly inherent in those who are jobless. There is also the issue about which the government has been silent in discussions about the workfare program -- the question of human rights.

Human Rights Violations

The decision to re-define dole workers as non-workers violates the human rights of jobless people. The mandatory elements of the scheme this program present a serious denial of the rights of unemployed persons.

There are several mechanisms in the scheme which provide for compulsion. For example, Commonwealth services delivery agencies have the authority to identify and notify eligible clients that they are to be `compulsorily referred'.

Further, the project sponsors (or agencies) are given a `degree of choice in relation to the selection of participants for particular projects'. The degree to which they can exercise that choice is far from being clear (Second Reading Speech, Social Security Legislation Bill, 1997: 2; DEETYA 1998).

The mandatory aspects of the scheme violate the dignity and agency of jobless people in a number of ways. By `agency' I refer the ability of a person to engage in positive, purposeful action as well as the ability to enhance her/his own capacity to create change and influence events -- especially in relation to issues that directly affect one's own life.

The scheme undermines the integrity of jobless people, and violates their sense of social agency by compelling them to work for welfare level payments. Being forced to partake in specified activities for a minimal income denies one's ability to make certain work/career related decisions, to plan and act with some degree of confidence in their ability to realise the set aims. The mandatory requirement to perform work in exchange for welfare benefits is destructive of the unemployed person's sense of autonomy and agency. The denial of agency for those already feeling disempowered by their failure to find employment is not an affirming experience, nor is it beneficial in terms of developing their self-esteem or social independence. Moreover, making participation in specified activities mandatory while also publicly blaming jobless people for being without work, compounds the guilt, anxiety and sense of incompetence felt by many people unable to find work.

The mandatory aspects of community service also carry a heavy punitive significance given that mandatory community service has traditionally been associated with the criminal justice system (as an alternative to imprisonment). Given the mandatory requirement to complete community service in exchange for unemployment benefits, are we to understand that the Federal government is proposing we should treat and punish unemployed people as criminals? As Bainbridge observed:
 Appropriately enough the chosen method of repayment, community service, is
 one which is already in place for another set of society's idle -- those
 who are convicted of petty crime (Bainbridge 1997: 5).


There are other aspects of the scheme which are of concern. There are punishments for refusing to accept participation. As John Howard explained:
 If people stubbornly refuse to do anything in return for the dole then over
 a period of time they could run the risk of losing it (Age, 11 February
 1997: A2).


Penalties can be implemented when a person subject to activity tests fails without a reasonable excuse:

(a) to commence, or complete and approved program of work for unemployment payment ...

(b) to comply with the conditions of such a program: the person is taken to fail the activity test (Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 1997- First Reading: 5).

Finally, the move to compel unemployed people to work in return for income support constitutes a form of civil conscription which denies jobless people basic civil liberties. (Australian Constitution, Paragraph xxiiiA, inserted 1946). In the same way the compulsory features of the program may also provide the basis for a complaint of discrimination to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Notes

(1) This includes enrolment in special literacy and numeracy lessons (12,000 places were established for 1989-9); Job Placement and Employment Training (JPET); or Job Search Training or Intensive Assistance in Job Network.

(2) A Current Affair, Channel 9, 4 March 1996; Herald Sun, 9 March 1996 p, 18 Herald Sun, 12 March 1996, Herald Sun, 10 April 1996,p. 21; Herald Sun, 11, March,p.20, Herald Sun, 13 March 1996,p.3, Herald Sun, 29 March,p.4; The Age, 16 March 1996,p. 27; The Age, 22 March 1996, p.13; Herald Sun, 22 March 1996, p.3; The Age, 17 March 1996,p. 14; The Age, 21 March 1996,p.10; The Age, 3 April 1996; Herald Sun, 9 March 1996,p.7.

References

ACOSS, 1996, The Future of Work and Young People's Pathways to Adulthood, An issues paper prepared for the Commission for the Future of Work, ACOSS, Sydney.

Bainbridge, B., 1997, Dole bludgeoned: the primary objectives of the work-for-the-Dole scheme are cultural and political, not economic, argues Bill Bainbridge, Arena: The Australian magazine of left political social and cultural commentary, No 28 April May.

Beck, U., 1993, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage, London.

Bessant, J., 1995, The discovery of an Australian `juvenile underclass', Australian New Zealand Journal of Sociology, Vol 31, No 1, March pp. 32-48.

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Judith Bessant, Faculty of Arts & Science, Australian Catholic University, Fitzroy, Melbourne.
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Publication:Australian Journal of Social Issues
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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