‘Work for the dole’ is back, with unemployed Australians potentially being made to work for their Centrelink benefits in order to deal with the catastrophic supply chain issue unfolding in Australia.
It is not an order yet, but various level of government have begun discussions with industry partners on ways to tap into the unemployment market during the staff shortage crisis.
With a disruptive portion of staff in Covid isolation, supermarket shelves are emptying of essential items like toilet paper and milk – only this time it has nothing to do with panic buying. The solution, according to the government, is to dip into the pool of unemployed Australians collecting Centrelink benefits.
Ordinarily, this would make sense, but the government has a problem.
Part of the reason for various industries in Australia being short-staffed is because thousands of experienced, hard-working staff were sacked due to Covid health directives. Unvaccinated employees were given an ultimatum – get vaccinated or be sacked. In some cases, this came from blanket state mandates (such as in Victoria, where Premier Daniel Andrews released an extensive list of industries requiring vaccination), and in other cases, it was ‘strong advice’ from the state government to companies and their OH&S departments.
These staff are currently fighting for the right to work in court cases scheduled to hear in late January and early February. This includes staff in critical industries such as healthcare and the police force. Surely the first task of a government desperately seeking workers would be to make sure nobody else loses their job?
There are now 396,100 empty jobs, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics – but there is no information on how many of these vacancies were created by firing staff members over their vaccination status.
It nearing impossible for unvaccinated people to get work in Australia. This means that for the first time since the Great Depression, the unemployment market is dominated by people put there by government policy.
Crisis talks have been held by Acting Small Business Minister Ann Ruston on Tuesday about what to do with the shortage of consumer goods. Supply chains are complex and fragile. Removing thousands of workers – both through vaccine mandates and isolation orders – has thrown the system into chaos.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been brought in to discuss the issue in National Cabinet, where the premiers are debating whether or not to change the isolation rules regarding close contacts. This comes after the definition of ‘close contact’ was dramatically softened.
In several industries, including front-line medical staff, close contacts and Covid positive staff have been unofficially invited back to work because of critical shortages.
At the same time, these industries refuse to rehire healthy, Covid negative unvaccinated staff who are waiting and desperate to work.
This is repeated in the transport industry, where experienced drivers were let go despite spending all day alone in their cabins.
“A very high number of the workforce are currently furloughed either because they have Covid, are caring for someone with Covid, or are a close contact,” said Senator Ruston – continuing to ignore the elephant in the room.
Unvaccinated workers were unceremoniously sacked because it was believed they would bring Covid into the workplace. Now that Australian workplaces are swamped with Covid positive, fully vaccinated and boosted employees, one wonders what the government’s justification is for continuing with compulsory vaccination mandates.
“Anybody who is currently on unemployment benefits who is able to work, we would be really keen for them to undertake some really active investigations about how they could help out with these workforce shortages. Many older Australians, I am sure, will be happy to do a few extra hours to help out at the moment.”
Considering that the narrative for the Covid pandemic has been to ‘keep the elderly indoors away from Covid’, it is bizarre that the Senator is asking the vulnerable to enter workplaces riddled with Covid and put themselves at risk when the young, low risk workers were sacked.
In addition to a request that runs contrary to the last two years of health orders, any staff members in critical industries that test negative to Covid will not have to self isolate. This is despite hotel quarantine and isolation orders existing because health experts said that Covid takes time to develop and you can actively spread Covid after your first negative test.
The department of Health and Home Affairs is also looking to strike a deal with the transport and health sectors to dismiss the requirement for Covid positive workers to produce a negative rapid antigen test to prove that they have recovered.
It is now up to the Prime Minister to sit down and determine which industries are ‘critical’ and can be exempt from the normal Covid rules. Considering the industries impacted by the shortages, it will almost certainly include supermarkets, transport, food production, and healthcare – the industries most likely to act as super-spreading locations.
Which means Australia is entering a new phase in Covid health orders where the lowest risk industries will have the highest burden of restriction on their staff while healthy staff are left sitting at home on the dole, with the most vulnerable brought in to cover the shortage.