A jobs provider on the Tiwi Islands says it will be forced to sack at least 20 Indigenous staff if a remote work for the dole scheme goes ahead as planned and the reforms could result in “slave labour”.
The revised Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP) will require all job seekers in remote communities to complete 25 hours of “work-like” activities a week, five days a week, 52 weeks a year.
The Tiwi Islands Training and Employment Board (TITEB) employs about 60 people, including 45 local Tiwi staff, and is owned and managed by a Tiwi board of directors.
TITEB’s chief executive Norm Buchan said the RJCP reforms were “farcical” and almost half his local staff would lose their jobs if the scheme was implemented.
Mr Buchan said proposed “attendance-based” funding, where service providers would not be paid unless job seekers turned up, created unrealistic expectations and was likely to fail.
“Under this new model, we’ll have to get rid of maybe 20-odd Indigenous staff for a starter,” he said.
“We’re hoping it doesn’t come to that, but if the model goes ahead the way it is, then we will.
“I won’t have money to pay them, because we’re not going to be getting paid.
“All that time we put into actually sitting with people and working through plans with them, if they then don’t turn up to an activity, we don’t get paid.”
Mr Buchan said enforcing the 25-hour per week RJCP requirement would not work in many remote communities and would be especially difficult in the wet season.
He said his organisation currently struggles to get people to work 15 hours per week because it does not have the assets it needs to provide activities, such as workshops and transport.
They’ll be working for about 10 bucks an hour.Norm Buchan, Tiwi Islands Training and Employment Board CEO
“It’s almost impossible to achieve what the Government wants us to achieve, without the asset base that we need and that goes for most communities,” he said.
“We can’t do it.”
Mr Buchan described the reforms as “slave labour”.
“There’s no leave provisions or anything,” he said.
“That’s just not going to happen, it’s not going to work. They’ll be working for about 10 bucks an hour.”
Government rushing Indigenous work for the dole scheme, jobs providers say
Several remote job service providers have told the ABC Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion was rushing the rollout of the remote work for the dole scheme and it would be “impossible” to implement.
These concerns have been outlined in a report prepared by Jobs Australia, the peak body for non-profit employment service providers, on behalf of 30 providers that met at a recent forum in Alice Springs.
Jobs Australia chief executive David Thompson said the report was being signed off by providers and would be sent to Senator Scullion and the Department this week.
“What we’re saying is he’d be well advised to take a bit more time, do a bit more consultation and get it much closer to right,” he said.
Mr Thompson said a draft RJCP funding contract was given to providers less than month ago and there had not yet been enough consultation with communities.
“The providers are also quite worried that previous financial arrangements for RJCP are being completely, completely changed,” he said.
“They can’t be certain whether they’re going to be viable.”
Remote work for the dole scheme delayed for some communities: Scullion
The RJCP reforms are part of the Government’s response to a review by mining magnate Andrew Forrest into Indigenous employment and aim to fulfil Senator Scullion’s ambition to “put an end to sit-down welfare”.
Senator Scullion said last year he would introduce the scheme by the end of June 2015 but he told service providers this month they had a 12-month “transition” period.
The proposed RJCP reforms replace a wages scheme, which has involved pooling welfare payments into wages for jobs and training in communities as an alternative to unemployment benefits.
The wages scheme was a feature of Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), set up by the Fraser government in 1977, and was retained in remote communities when CDEP was scrapped by Labor in 2013.
Senator Scullion said he was aware some service providers were worried about the pace of the changes, but that they had made an “assumption” the arrangements would begin on July 1.
He said the plan to roll out work for the dole in remote areas would now be “staggered” because some communities were not ready for the change.
“Some providers have said it’s going to be a big deal but those providers have made an assumption that we’re actually starting on the 1st of July,” he said.
“I’ve now been able to tell them that we’ve got a year from the 1st of July to implement the program – we’ll be pushing when you’re ready, but you need to become ready.
“So this is reflective of that, in that we need the flexibility because not all places are the same, not everybody is ready to start at the same time.”
Jobs providers concerned changes to Indigenous jobs scheme contracts not legal
Mr Thompson said Jobs Australia was seeking legal advice on behalf of service providers about the Federal Government’s proposed changes to RJCP contracts.
“It’s being proposed that people just sign off on a contract variation which converts their 2013 contract into a 2015 one,” he said.
“It’s a bit like that infamous axe that’s had five new handles and three new heads,” Mr Thompson said.
“Some argue it’s still the same axe, but it certainly ain’t.
“We’re doing the work to check the financial viability, but to also check the legal ability to make such substantial changes and what the legal implications of that are.”