The prime minister, Tony Abbott, has come under fire for suggesting employers “try before they buy” when hiring long-term unemployed people.Abbott made the comments during an address to the Queensland Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning, where he was highlighting a new initiative which allowed people who have been unemployed for more than six months to work for a private enterprise for a month before losing the dole benefits.
“That person can do up to four weeks of work experience with your business, with a private sector business, without losing unemployment benefits so it gives you a chance to have a kind of try-before-you-buy look at unemployed people,” Abbott said.
“What we have permitted for the first time in this budget is, if you like, real work for the dole. Work in a business for the dole,” he said.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the comments show “how out of touch this prime minister is with the pressure Australians are under”.
“There are 80,000 more Australians out of work now than when Tony Abbott was elected. Youth unemployment is at crisis levels at more than 13%,” Shorten said. “He should be helping young Australians find work, not demonising them.”
The Greens have also criticised the comments.
“Once again the prime minister has managed to dig up the most insensitive comment about people that are struggling each day to make ends meet and find work,” senator Rachel Siewert said. “Telling businesses that they can ‘try before you buy’ when it comes to struggling unemployed people goes beyond offensive.”
She has urged Abbott to immediately retract his comments.
“Unemployed Australians are not cheap assets to be tested and tried,” she said. “They are vulnerable people, both young and old, urgently seeking employment.”
Australia’s unemployment rate increased to 6.2% in the most recent ABS figures released earlier this month.