POLL: Union slams work for the dole revamp

The ACTU has lashed the federal government for planning an "enhanced" work-for-the-dole program, warning Holden workers facing the loss of their job could end up picking garbage.

The peak union body's president, Ged Kearney, said the plan to expand the work program for unemployed people would not necessarily provide a pathway back into the workforce.

The Coalition government is looking to start its "enhanced" work-for-the-dole program in the next financial year, focusing on young unemployed Australians.

Ms Kearney said that with unprecedented pressure on the manufacturing sector and a softening labour market the federal government should stop "blaming workers and trying to drive down wages".

"This government is trying to create a diversion from the fact that it doesn't have a policy to create jobs to deal with the softening labour market, and it has no manufacturing plan," Ms Kearney said.

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"It didn't help Holden, it won't assist Qantas. It has nothing to say or do but to punish people who can't get a job," she said.

"These changes may impact Holden workers, some of whom are 50-year-old men, highly skilled, and who might find it tough to find a job when the company stops making cars. Should these people be picking up litter?"

Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker told Fairfax Media yesterday that under current plans, work-for-the-dole participants could be working in team projects, such as building a walkway, maintaining gardens or undertaking placements in non-profit organisations.

He argued work for the dole improved job seekers' prospects and taught them necessary "soft skills" such as dressing appropriately for the workplace.

Mr Hartsuyker stressed that the government's plans were still "very much a work in progress" but said the Coalition hoped it would be "operational in the next financial year".

Work for the dole was introduced by the Howard government but scaled back under Labor.

In its current form, after 12 months, jobseekers between 18 and 49 are required to participate in a "work experience activity" - where work for the dole is one option - for six months out of a 12-month period.

A work experience activity could also include volunteering in the community sector, work on conservation projects or part-time study.

After this period, most job seekers are required to participate in a work experience activity for 11 months of every 12-month period.

Asked if the new model would make work for the dole compulsory, Mr Hartsuyker said there would be a "very strong onus on job seekers" to participate if they were not studying or could not find a job.

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