Berkeley battler empowering the jobless

A Berkeley father frustrated with the Illawarra job market wants to start a union for the unemployed and under-employed.

Community services worker Bruno Conte has spent years in uncertain, temporary positions and patchy contracted arrangements where the work evaporates with the change of government.

Now working 12-15 hours a week, he is frustrated at the level of government subsidies given to private industry and state and regional development boards.

"If the reason they exist is to generate work, why is there no unemployed representation on the boards?" said Mr Conte, 48.

"Most of the funding goes directly to industry or these boards. I can't see why we can't go as a group and ask for funding to work out our own proposal."

Mr Conte will lead a meeting of other under-employed and unemployed people at Dapto's Ribbonwood Centre on October 12.

He wants participants to share their experiences and proposals for long-term community programs, social enterprises and co-operatives with the potential to create jobs.

"We can then start putting in submissions for corporate funding, government funding, and any philanthropic funding that might be available."

Mr Conte suggested the Illawarra's southern suburbs might benefit from a "fair repair" service for pensioners and others on fixed incomes, where the unemployed could be trained as handypersons and put to work using a partial government subsidy.

His ideas are reminiscent of the Wollongong Out of Workers Union (WOW), which formed in the early 1980s after mass redundancies in the steel and coal industries. 

With unemployment in Wollongong then as high as 21 per cent - compared to the 10 per cent national average - the group gave the region's unemployed, particularly youth, a political voice, and set out to dispel the myth that unemployed people were bludgers.

The group disbanded in the early 1990s.

Unemployment in Wollongong now stands at 8 per cent, compared to the 4.8 per cent state average.

Mr Conte said all were welcome at his public meeting, including the unskilled. It is at Dapto Ribbonwood Centre on October 12 from 10am until midday.

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