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The Work for the Dole Policy Program: Review

The Work for the Dole policy program is an effectively compulsory measure to receive the JobSeeker Payment and satisfy the mutual obligation requirement for the unemployed. Regarding the Work for the Dole program, I am arguing that it should not be obligatory as the non-voluntary nature results in negative outcomes despite some existing benefits and positive intentions. Work for the Dole is a beneficial collaboration between public and private sectors in the effort to increase employment opportunities for a wide range of job seekers in the population but should be voluntary and requires addressing a long list of issues. In this paper, I will argue that Work for the Dole (WfD) should be voluntary because of its record of ineffective employment outcomes or long-term benefits for the participants, the punitive and potentially abusive structure of the program that takes away rights from employees, and a notable discriminatory nature of the policy which consistently leaves out or harms vulnerable populations.

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Ineffective Employment Outcomes

For the first issue, I argue that Work for the Dole should not be mandatory because of its lack of effectiveness. While it is notably useful as a mutual obligation requirement, it is lackluster at solving the underlying problems to employment or even potentially serving as a detriment to the unemployed. Several organizations such as the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the Welfare Rights Centre alongside numerous policymakers and scholars have described WfD as highly limited in nature and not designed to improve employment prospects because it lacks the appropriate tools to ensure competent matching of activities for participants as well as lacking viable training components (Yeend, 2004). Despite being marketed as a program that will lead to long-term employment and entry of individuals into the workforce, WfD ultimately fails to resolve long-term unemployment or establish sustainable jobs for independent living, particularly in populations such as youth and older adults.

The above claims are supported by statistics which suggests a 19% success rate for WfD in comparison to previous policies such as Labor’s ‘wage connect scheme’ which featured a 47% success rate (ACOSS, 2020). The logic to why WfD is ineffective because it oftentimes results in employers placing participants in low-supervision, menial jobs such as manual labor. It is beneficial for private employers because through the program they would pay much lower wages than even an hourly employer. Already, it is seemingly a compromise of the labor market by maintaining the size and necessity of WfD. Meanwhile, unemployed participants are removed from well-paid employment opportunities, connections, or education/training that could raise their skills or qualifications. Once the 6-month deadline passes at which point mutual obligation activities have to be met via WfD, the options for further training are effectively removed (Saunders & Tsumori, 2003). The WfD program is focused short-term endeavors that do not contribute to formal skill development other than some soft skills the likes of teamwork and communication, which drastically undermines its effectiveness. Sustainable employment is only possible when there are extra jobs available due to economic growth and there are people with appropriate skill sets to fill and retain employment in these jobs.

Punitive System

There is significant criticism of WfD and the general mutual obligations requirements, creating an inherently punitive system which often punishes and pressures unemployed participants rather than empowering them. The whole premise of WfD is punitive as it enforced through punitive activation in Australia. However, despite the presupposed guarantee access to employment, actual access to that employment is not guaranteed. The objective of the welfare to work was to eliminate unemployment and stimulate the socially marginalized unemployed individuals in their agency of being lifted out of poverty and into work. However, it had the opposite effect of creating in-work poverty due to the drive of maximizing employment participation at any cost, but creating low-quality, low-wage, and low-intensity jobs (Raffass, 2014). Economic inclusion does not result in social inclusion, but the boundary simply moved into the workforce, dividing the WfD unemployed and the regular workforce.

The fairness of WfD and mutual obligations has faced criticism with concerns that workers are abused and mistreated. The system has become unfairly onerous, with a high level of activity required by mutual obligations, but it became a ‘blunt tool’ which disempowers the unemployed, forcing activities that do not result in jobs, and oftentimes has become ‘activity for activity’s sake’ (Casey, 2020). A report studying the experiences of WfD workers Working it Out, highlights anecdotal evidence regarding the high level of incompetence and abuse as participants are either forced to do nothing or medial tasks for 6 hours a day, ‘warehoused there’ or facing abuse from managers and forced to do the most undesirable tasks, viewed as the absolutely lowest level of employees and hierarchical structure (Casey, 2020). Mutual obligation requirements are punitive as they are unhelpful, while valid reasons for missing work or appointments are virtually inflexible. Furthermore, employers hold a significant amount of power over the WfD workers and can abuse this influence since employers ultimately report back to Centrelink regarding attendance and performance, resulting in exploitative and potentially abusive work environments that are punitive for the unemployed.

Discriminatory and Unequal

As part of the WfD program, the Australian government runs the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) which targets the social security implementation in remote areas. The majority of job seekers and third-party providers through CDEP identify as Indigenous or Aboriginal. The Aboriginal populations are highly marginalized, living in poverty and lack access to real employment and educational opportunities. Similarly, to other areas, recipitients of social security in remote communities are subjected to mandatory participation in CDEP under the WfD.

The Australian National Audit Office (2017) found that Aboriginal populations were three times more likely to be penalized, often for reasons outside of their control such as health or language proficiency. The mandatory CDEP approach has also been criticized for removing Aborigines from the traditional labor market which exacerbated the status quo of welfare passivity. According to the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), strictly opposes Work for the Dole and the CDEP, the program is discriminatory towards Indigenous and Aboriginal populations (2019). Not only is it subjecting individuals to perform prescribed activities in return for Centrelink payments, working hours in jobs which are similar to regular employment while being paid much smaller wages, but also restrictive income management where payments cannot be spent on aspects such as alcohol. Interestingly enough, other participants in WfD in mainstream markets do not face spending restrictions.

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On many levels, WfD has shown to be a discriminatory program against the Indigenous populations as well as criticisms of discrimination against people with disabilities and even women. The CPD in particular affects mostly Indigenous populations, with workers being paid $10 while the minimum wage is $18.86, with no proper rights or protections. It creates a cycle of welfare dependency for the vulnerable populations taking advantage of the exploitative conditions described earlier. The discriminatory obligations often result in remote CPED participants doing significantly more work than non-Indigenous populations in majority areas (NACCHO, n.d). Combined with much greater penalization for these populations and underwhelming wages, it results in disengagement from many individuals who either exit the program or continue to work for the Dole with absolutely no future prospective.

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, I attempt to demonstrate that compulsory Work for the Dole is an ineffective and oftentimes detrimental policy to address unemployment in the Australian society. This position was supported by addressing the key issues of the program failing to fulfill its purpose over the two decades of implementation, creating a punitive and abusive system which benefits private employers but rarely the unemployed participants, as well as being discriminatory in nature based off its CPED initiative for remote areas. In theory, WfD is a positive approach to welfare policy to prevent abuses of the payout system and encouraging Australians to continue contributing to the economy while obtaining skills and experience.

However, an overwhelming body of evidence shows that in practice, WfD failed on many levels. This is most likely due to its structural nature that both incentivizes the negatives and desensitizes the positives. It virtually provides cheap labor for private employers while being highly divisive and discriminatory with little oversight and the compulsory nature leads to disengagement of participants and lack of focus on critical elements for long-term employment like skills development. Overall most experts, and I agree completely, that the program should remain in place but undergo a radical change in design, focused on targeting local needs of the provinces and unemployed while also finding ways on promoting economic growth which is key to sustainable employment.


ACOSS. (2020). Faces of unemployment 2020. 

Australian National Audit Office. (2017). The design and implementation of the community development programme. Web.

Casey, S. (2020). Mutual obligation after Covid-19: The Work for the Dole time bomb. 

NACCHO. (n.d.). Leading First Nation groups say Work-for-the-Dole scheme racially discriminatory and unhealthy

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North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. (2019). Social security (administration) amendment (income management to cashless debit card transition) bill 2019 (Cth). 

Rafass, T. (2014). Unemployment and punitive activation as human rights issues. Australian Journal of Human Rights, 20(1), 1-30. Web.

Saunders, P., & Tsumori, K. (2003). How to reduce long term unemployment. Issue Analysis, 40

Yeend, P. (2004). Mutual obligation/Work for the Dole. 

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