The National Work Experience Programme plan to allow jobseekers to do a part-time month of unpaid work experience might be a step in the right direction to get long-term unemployed into the job market. However, there needs to be safeguards to avoid abuse and maximise the chance of leading to a permanent job. We cannot have a situation where unscrupulous employers are able to exploit a conga line of free labour from desperate jobseekers.
The NWEP consists of an $18 million, five-year job activation plan allowing unemployed people aged 18 and over to do up to 25 hours per week of unpaid work experience for up to four weeks. During the ‘working trial’ period, the jobseeker will continue to receive income support, and a fortnightly $20 supplement to cover transport.
Most importantly, the NWEP will be voluntary, whereas the current work for the dole, introduced back in 1998, is not. The current scheme largely relies on the mutual obligation concept, under which unemployment assistance is conditional (i.e. compulsory) on activity tests such as gardening and maintenance works or warehouse duties — strictly at not-for-profit organisations and government agencies.