Workforce | Skills

There’s no such thing as undignified work, only undignified idleness, warns Employment Minister

Governments must be prepared to take a moral stand against idleness because of its well documented ill effects on individuals and society, Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz, has told a CEDA employment forum in Melbourne.

Senator Abetz said that while governments had recently focused on the economic arguments for employment growth, more needed to be made of the moral arguments for getting people off welfare and back into work - even in Work for the Dole schemes.

"Our strong commitment to Work for the Dole has, at its foundation, the concept of giving people a chance to participate in an activity and as a result provide a sense of fulfilment and community that prepares them for the world of paid workd, he said."

There is no such thing as undignified work - only the "scourge of idleness", which could not be funded by Australian taxpayers while there was work to be done in the community, he said.

The government had introduced a suite of policies, including incentives, student loans, relocation allowances and subsidies for employers to take on older workers and it was working to create an economic environment that fostered employment growth, Senator Abetz said.

"As a society we should be outspoken in saying that it is not acceptable to obtain welfare payments in circumstances where there is gainful employment to be had, albeit seasonal, or not employment of one's first choice," he said.

Young people should be encouraged to move where there is seasonal work rather than this being the preserve of people on 457 visas, the forum heard.

While many criticised Work for the Dole schemes and the "earn or learn" policy to get people under 30 into study or a job as attacks on the unemployed, these would not be one size fits all, he said.

People with caring responsibilities and special needs would receive extra help, he said.

"Turning a blind eye to welfare dependency will lead to the devastating consequences we are already witnessing in some of our Indigenous communities and in some of our suburbs," he said.

"Let's be very clear, when people don't work we, as a community, not only lose the value of their work as an economic resource but also lose the more valuable resources of their individual sense of self-worth, their physical and mental health.

"And with that comes extra monetary costs to the community apart from the obvious welfare costs."

The forum heard that while some Work for the Dole participants under the Howard government had begun their six month community projects reluctantly, most were pleased with their achievements in the end.

In one notable example in Tasmania, a Work for the Dole scheme had created a rhododendron garden that had become a tourism landmark, the forum heard.

"The more time spent gainfully in the community, the more likely opportunities will emerge - and people will be better able to take advantage of them," Senator Abetz said.

"The case for work is overwhelming... [that is why the government is] crafting policies to move people from the indignity of no work to a more fulfilling life in which they are productively engaged in their communities."