Australia is set to impose strict new measures requiring unemployed people to work for their welfare benefits, including forcing them to submit 40 job applications a month and do up to 25 hours of community work a week.
The controversial changes, to begin from next July, expand the country's 16-year-old "work for the dole" scheme which requires those receiving unemployment benefits to work and apply for jobs. Unemployment benefits are now about A$510 (S$595) a week, or A$552 a week for those with dependent children or those aged 60-plus who have been jobless for more than nine months.
The new laws impose specific work quotas and require people under 30 to work 25 hours a week, while those aged 30 to 49 will do 15 hours a week. For the first time there is an obligation on 50- to 60-year-olds, who will have to complete 15 hours of training.
The work is overseen by job placement agencies and can involve volunteering for community organisations, unpaid work experience at local businesses or training programmes.
Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said the measures were designed to ensure that job seekers were actually out looking for jobs. "It's not unreasonable to expect job seekers to be out there looking for work, every working day," he told ABC Radio. "It is absolutely obvious that if you are sitting at home, you are unlikely to get a job."
The move received a mixed response, with critics saying the measures were too onerous and there was no evidence the work- for-the-dole scheme has led to greater workforce participation.
The Business Council of Australia said the softening labour market might make it impractical to apply for 40 jobs a month. "It would be better to allow job seekers to concentrate their efforts on applying for the jobs they have the best chance of acquiring," council head Jennifer Westacott told The Australian.
The jobless rate in Australia is 6 per cent, the lowest in three decades. However, unemployment among those aged 15 to 24 has risen to about 13 per cent, the highest in more than a decade.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has long railed against easy access to welfare in Australia and Treasurer Joe Hockey has called for an end to the "age of entitlement".
But the Labor opposition, which tends to be more supportive of welfare programmes, said the new measures were unnecessary and more of a "punishment" than an incentive to work.
"There's no point giving someone who has spent 30 years in the workforce, who has been retrenched, work experience," Labor's employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor told ABC Radio. "It can be counter-productive if they are engaging in activities that are irrelevant and are in fact taking them away from searching for work."
Other critics say Australia's work-for-the-dole scheme has not been successful and that the short-term job placements do not provide job seekers with sufficient skills to improve their job prospects.
A study, published in the early 2000s, found it actually led to participants spending longer on welfare and failing to focus on finding a job, partly because some tended to view their job placements as "real" jobs and did less to look for work.
This article was first published on July 29, 2014.
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