Explainer: Work for the Dole

This story was first published on Thursday 18 October 2018. 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 under jobactive for the long-term unemployed (12 months or longer) and is one way a job seeker can meet their mutual obligation requirements. Most job seekers will not be required to participate in Work for the Dole because they find a job in the first 12 months of being on income support.

Its primary aim is to keep people connected with the labour market by helping them gain employability skills, while at the same time giving back to the community. Host Organisations get extra sets of hands to help with tasks they could not normally get done.

Work for the Dole is not an employment program and doesn’t directly match people with employment opportunities. Instead, it supports job seekers to develop employability skills, those ‘soft’ skills that we know employers really value.

The Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business regularly surveys job seekers and results have shown that between about 25 - 30% of job seekers are in employment three months after leaving the program. Around 37% who exit the program have a recorded job placement.

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 six months each year they remain unemployed to meet their mutual obligation requirements.  Work for the Dole is one of a number of approved activities a job seeker may choose to meet their activity requirement. Since the commencement of jobactive, around 21% of people who have undertaken an activity participate in Work for the Dole.

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.

Did the Government expand Work for the Dole in the 2018-19 Budget?

The Work for the Dole program has not been expanded. Amendments were made in the 2018-19 Budget to the Annual Activity Requirement that aligns the treatment for those aged 30 to 49 with those under 30 years of age.

All jobactive job seekers under the age of 50 now have the same expectations in terms of the number of hours each fortnight they are expected to spend undertaking approved activities.

No Host Organisation is expected to take on more job seekers or hours than they wish. It is the jobactive provider’s responsibility to assist job seekers to meet their activity requirements from the range of approved activities.

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 Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Survey of Employers’ Recruitment Experiences shows that 72% of employers say employability skills are as important, if not more important, than technical skills.

Who has to participate in Work for the Dole?

Only job seekers who are on income support and have been unemployed for 12 months are required to undertake an activity, 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:

  • restoration (e.g. landscaping and conservation at a wildlife park, restoring community footpaths from markets to the beach)
  • planning, designing, construction and painting (e.g. community gardens, restoration of community amenities such as halls)
  • sorting goods donated to charities
  • digitising community organisation records
  • recycling materials
  • creating food hampers for distribution
  • retail and customer service in charity stores
  • helping with animal welfare
  • manufacturing toys for charities.

How many people participate in Work for the Dole?

Around 60,000 people are forecast to participate in a Work for the Dole Activity in the 2019-2020 financial year.

Under jobactive (since 1 July 2015 to 30 August 2019) over 247,900 people have commenced in a Work for the Dole activity:

  • 61.9% of job seekers are over 30 years of age
  • 37.5% are female
  • 12.8% are Indigenous
  • 51.8% commenced once and 23.7% commenced twice in a Work for the Dole activity.

On any one day around 15,000 job seekers are participating in a Work for the Dole activity.

Since 1 July 2015 , there have been over 53,000 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:

  • 76.7% of participants said Work for the Dole increased their desire to find a job
  • 75.6% of participants reported Work for the Dole improved their ability to work with others
  • 73.5% reported increased self confidence
  • 70.6% reported improved work-related skills
  • 83.6% were satisfied there is a safe work environment.

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

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.

The incident rate for the Work for the Dole program is around 1.8%. The most recent ABS data (2017-18) on the rate of reported work-related injury or illness in paid work is 4.2%.

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), and
  • conducting risk assessments for every activity and every participant.

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.

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 and complaints under Work for the Dole?

The incident rate for the program is around 1.8%. 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.

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:

Read more about Work for the Dole.

Read more about changes to participation requirements that began on 20 September 2018.

This article was updated on 29 October 2019.

Correct at time of publication.