Work for the Dole doesn’t work for anyone

Article published 29 January 2024

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A well-known community services organisation has announced that it will cut ties with Work for the Dole. Hopefully, others will follow suit.

In December last year, the House of Representatives Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services released its report on the state of Australia’s employment services system. In it, the Committee described the process of using ‘Work for the Dole’ and other mutual obligations systems to enforce compliance in the welfare system as “like using a nuclear bomb to kill a mosquito”.

A couple of weeks ago, the Work for the Dole scheme received another blow to its wounded credibility when the Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL), a well-known community services organisation, announced that they would no longer participate in the scheme. The organisation stated that Work for the Dole “operates contrary to BSL’s mission, values and stated policy positions, and is not in the best interests of people who are unemployed”.

What is ‘Work for the Dole’?

As the name suggests, Work for the Dole is work that you undertake in order to receive a welfare payment and is one of many so-called mutual obligations that people may be made to take part in if they receive a JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance or a Parenting Payment. These mutual obligations include applying for jobs, taking part in online learning modules and fulfilling a ‘job plan’ laid out by your employment service provider. Notably, Australia’s mutual obligation requirements for welfare recipients are some of the harshest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

For people who have received one of the above payments for 6 months (or 4 months if you manage your own mutual obligations through Workforce Australia Online), you are tasked with an additional obligation called an ‘activity requirement’. Work for the Dole is one of these activity requirements.

Work for the Dole can take a number of forms, but usually involves 30-50 hours per fortnight (less for recipients aged 60 years and over) of unpaid ‘volunteer’ work for an op-shop or charity organisation, or work as part of a community project like maintaining a community garden or a public park.

While many payment recipients may feel forced into a Work for the Dole program, there are alternatives available, and a person’s rights surrounding the program can be found here.

What’s wrong with it?

Work for the Dole punishes payment recipients by forcing them to work for far below the legal per hour minimum wage. It is also ineffective at providing people with skills or experience that may help them find a job, with participation in the scheme increasing the probability of employment within 6 months by less than 2%.

More importantly, it’ can be dangerous. A Work for the Dole participant died from a workplace injury in 2016, and a subsequent investigation into his death found that his employment service provider had a history of failing to investigate serious incidents on work sites.

Finally, there’s nothing ‘mutual’ about mutual obligations. A JobSeeker recipient only recently received his first payment after waiting 11 weeks, but was nonetheless forced to drive 50km to attend meetings with his employment services provider during that time, while another applicant had still not received a payment after 60 days.

While the House Committee’s report on Workforce Australia concluded that Work for the Dole should be reformed, but should nonetheless continue, Brotherhood of St. Laurence’s withdrawal will hopefully set an example for other host organisations to abandon their support of the scheme.

Free legal advice

For people in NSW who are having trouble with Centrelink or think that they are going to get in trouble with Centrelink, they can contact the Welfare Rights Centre for legal advice.

Phone: 02 9211 5300
1800 226 028 (toll-free)

Monday and Wednesday,
9:30am to 12:30pm



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