Explainer: Work for the Dole

This story was first published on Thursday 4 November 2021. If you wish to use this content, please contact media@dese.gov.au to confirm that the information is still current.

Long-term unemployment remains a challenge in Australia.

The longer a person stays unemployed, the more their connection with the labour market diminishes, having potential negative effects on their confidence and employability skills.

What is Work for the Dole?

Work for the Dole is a work experience program and is one way a job seeker can meet their mutual obligation requirements.

Its primary aim is to keep people connected with the labour market by helping them gain employability skills, while at the same time contributing to their community. 

There are many benefits for job seekers who participate in Work for the Dole, including helping job seekers to build their skills in the 10 core competency areas identified by the National Skills Commission as being required for every occupation in Australia. 

These 10 core competencies are: 
•    teamwork 
•    initiative and innovation 
•    planning and organising 
•    oral communication 
•    digital engagement
•    reading 
•    writing 
•    problem solving 
•    learning and; 
•    numeracy.  

Work for the Dole is not an employment program and doesn’t directly match people with employment opportunities. 

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment regularly surveys job seekers and results have shown that 75.9% of job seekers state participation in Work for the Dole increased their desire to find a job.

Why did the Government introduce Work for the Dole?

The Australian Government expects people receiving unemployment benefits to do all that is possible to improve their chances of finding a job. Work for the Dole has been in place for more than 20 years, helping long-term unemployed people to remain activated. While there have been some changes over that time, essentially the key features of the program remain the same.

After being in jobactive for 12 months, and in return for income support, job seekers are required to undertake an approved activity for 6 months each year they remain unemployed to meet their mutual obligation requirements. From 1 October 2021, some job seekers will also have to complete a Six Month Activity Requirement. Work for the Dole is one of a number of approved activities a job seeker may choose to meet their activity requirements.

Other approved activities include paid work, the National Work Experience Program, the Career Transitions Assistance Program, voluntary work, accredited training and study, PaTH Employability Skills Training, PaTH Internships, and accredited language, literacy and numeracy courses.

Who hosts a Work for the Dole activity?

Only not-for-profit or government organisations can host a Work for the Dole activity. Work for the Dole activities cannot displace paid work.

From 2015 to the present, around 5,600 Host Organisations have participated in the program.

How does Work for the Dole help people who are looking for work?

Research has shown that activation policies contribute to falls in unemployment. For decades, the OECD, the ILO and the World Bank have strongly advocated for activation policies and programs to help people stay connected with the labour market.

The labour market is highly competitive. Work for the Dole can help unemployed people become more competitive by building their capacity and skills. Job seekers can:

  • develop the skills that employers want — team work, communication and reliability
  • increase their confidence and show that they are ready to start working
  • meet new people and make contacts (i.e. people who may become a referee)
  • get involved in their local community.

Departmental analysis shows that people on income support who participate in unpaid work experience are much more likely to get a job.

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment Survey of Employers’ Recruitment Experiences in 2019 shows that 75% of employers say employability skills are as important, if not more important, than technical skills.

Who has to participate in Work for the Dole?

From 1 October 2021, if a job seeker has completed 6 months in employment services, they have to complete a Six Month Activity Requirement. For job seekers in jobactive, Work for the Dole will be the default activity for this requirement, where they are not undertaking another approved activity.

Job seekers who are on income support and have been unemployed for 12 months are required to undertake an activity as part of their Annual Activity Requirement, such as Work for the Dole.

Before doing so, they will sit down with their employment services provider and complete their job plan. If participating in Work for the Dole, they will be provided with information on an activity and what it will involve.

What kinds of activities do participants engage in?

Examples of activities include:

  • gardening and maintenance works
  • conservation or environmental activities including rehabilitation of public parks
  • retail work
  • hospitality services
  • office administration
  • warehouse duties
  • electronic archiving of hard copy documents
  • animal or wildlife shelters
  • helping establish a social enterprise 

How many people participate in Work for the Dole?

Work for the Dole was paused nationally from 20 March 2020 to 28 September 2020 due to COVID-19. Work for the Dole activities recommenced on 28 September 2020.

Up to 145,000 participants are forecast to participate in a Work for the Dole Activity in the 2021-2022 financial year.

Under jobactive (since 1 July 2015 to 31 August 2021) over 270,130 people have commenced in a Work for the Dole activity:

  • 62.2% of job seekers are over 30 years of age
  • 37.8% are female
  • 12.7% are Indigenous
  • 51% commenced once and 23% commenced twice in a Work for the Dole activity.

Since 1 July 2015 , there have been over 61,000 Work for the Dole activities.

What do participants think of Work for the Dole?

The department surveys job seekers on whether participation in Work for the Dole improves their employability skills. Survey results showed:

  • 75.9% of participants said Work for the Dole increased their desire to find a job
  • 75.1% of participants reported Work for the Dole improved their ability to work with others
  • 73.2% reported increased self confidence
  • 70.2% reported improved work-related skills
  • 83.5% were satisfied there is a safe work environment.

Around 6,000 participants a year are surveyed with a 40% response rate.

How is Work for the Dole monitored?

The department undertakes a range of program assurance and monitoring activities, including:

  • on-site and targeted work health and safety audits
  • site visits conducted by departmental officers
  • desktop monitoring and analysis of documentary evidence maintained by jobactive providers
  • investigations of incidents and complaints reported by participants, as well as tip-offs received via the National Customer Service Line and Tip-Off Line.

The department regularly reviews its requirements to ensure any learnings are adopted and regularly communicates with providers on work health and safety matters.

How prevalent are injuries under Work for the Dole?

From 1 July 2015 to 31 August 2021, the incident rate for the program is around 1.4%. This compares with the latest incident rate in paid work of 4.2% (ABS data (2017-18) on the rate of reported work-related injury or illness.

Unlike state and territory regulators, which require the reporting of specified notifiable injuries, all injuries and/or incidents at a Work for the Dole site, including near misses, must be reported to the department.

The majority of injuries are minor – such as, hurting your back when lifting, trips/falls, cuts, scratches or insect bites. All incidents are expected to be managed appropriately.

Is the program safe for participants?

Workplace health and safety is a priority for the Work for the Dole program and was core in the development of the program and continues to be a priority.

As with all organisations, Work for the Dole host organisations and jobactive providers are governed by the relevant state or territory workplace health and safety legislation.

They must also comply with additional program requirements, such as:

  • reporting all incidents that occur on a Work for the Dole site (including scratches, insect bites and near misses)
  • conducting risk assessments for every activity and every participant and
  • Host Organisations must also have a COVID-19 Safe Plan (or similar) in place, in accordance with their State and Territory requirements, prior to the commencement of any Work for the Dole activity.

Workplace health and safety must be assessed at the outset when an activity is considered for Work for the Dole through a risk assessment conducted by a competent person. Where workplace health and safety concerns are identified that cannot be removed or adequately mitigated, then the activity must not proceed.

It is a program requirement that appropriate training is undertaken by participants, including workplace health and safety training, along with providing adequate and appropriate supervision.

Workplace health and safety regulators recognise that no workplace is risk free and that workplaces continually need to review and revise their safety practices to ensure the highest standards possible. The department’s approach is consistent with that taken by regulators.

If a participant has any issues with their activity, they are advised they should raise them with their Host Organisation in the first instance or their jobactive provider. They can also call the department’s National Customer Service Line on 1800 805 260.  Any complaint made to the Line can be confidential.

What else is the Government doing to help the long-term unemployed?

Long-term unemployment remains a challenge and activation is a well-tested strategy. Work for the Dole is one component of a number of strategies to help people into the labour market.

Other measures include:

Work for the Dole activities will also be a part of the New Employment Services Model (NESM) from July 2022. For more information, read more about the NESM.

Read more about Work for the Dole.

This article was originally published in October 2018 and last updated on 4 November 2021.

Correct at time of publication.