Contributed by Joe Montero
On Thursday 19 February it was two years since 18-year old Josh Park-Fing died while working for the dole, at the Toowoomba Showgrounds, a government sponsored site for the program.
He had been forced to ride on the back of a flatbed trailer without a harness, while the truck was being towed by a tractor. It’s suspected the tractor slipped a gear and jolted, causing the teen to fall and hit his head. Josh died from head injuries.
He had already been suffering from an injured back caused by working at this place.
On the day he died, Josh texted his father Iain Park, “Working for the dole is shot because they over work u n if your hurt your back they say there not filling out any paper work.”
The tragedy grabbed national attention and became a symbol for the way the unemployed are treated by compassionless government policy, that stigmatises, bullies and even puts them into dangerous situations.
The second anniversary of Josh’s death was observed at events around Australia, organised by the Unemployed Workers Union.
I attended the Melbourne event, where speakers and contributors from the floor, explained that the Work for the Dole scheme forces people into situations that put them at risk. There is a lack of training and supervision, and unscrupulous employers exploit these people as a form of free labour, with no rights, able to be threatened with breaches and therefore have their miserly Newstart allowance cut. This amounts to a form of slavery.
Several people gave an account of experiences they suffered while working for the dole.
The unemployed forced into Work for the Dole, are because of a loophole, not legally recognised as employed, and are therefore do not have the right to protection that applies to those at work. Under threat of losing the little income you have, it is difficult to refuse to carry out an instruction. The unemployed are vulnerable and there are those who will take full advantage of this. When there is an accident, they are not protected by Workcover.
The feeling was that this scheme should not be operating in Australia. It even fails its own test, of providing a pathway to employment according to the data. The unemployed need real help to get back on the track.
For its part, the government has refused to properly investigate and refused to make information it has in its hands public. Two years after the incidence, there is still nothing.
But because of the persistence of Josh’s supporters, the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland, NEATO Employment Services Pty Ltd and Work for the Dole project coordinator, Adrian Strachan, have been charged with alleged breaches of the Work Health Safety Act 2011. The charges will be heard at the Toowoomba Magistrates Court today. The result will be important.
Commemoration of the death also became an occasion to launch the Boycott Work for the Dole Campaign led by the Unemployed Workers Union, which will be spearheaded by the building of what are called Break Out Action groups.
With other events around the country acting similarly, this is going to be a national campaign.
Josh will be remembered for his contribution to the resistance to this form of unfair treatment.