Covid, op shops, labour exploitation, Job Networks
Rosie Williams, BA (Sociology)
27th Jun 2021
Religious Charities Giving With One Hand And Taking With The Other
The risks of the pandemic highlight the injustice of forced labour enjoyed by religious charities.

The listing of the Salvation Army op shop in Tempe, NSW as a potential Covid-19 exposure site should give people pause for thought over the morality of forcing impoverished people to work for 'welfare' without the rights afforded to the employed.

Every day thousands of unemployed Australians are forced to work in op shops around the country without the simple right to take a sick day. Religious charities pocket both the benefits of that free labour on top of the hundreds of millions in government funding to their very own Job Active/ParentsNext agencies that send people to work in their own stores.

The DESE site claims only not-for-profit organsiations can exploit Work for the Dole participants. In practice this often means religious charities. An evaluation of the Work for the Dole found that 27% of respondents worked in charity stores, over double the proportion carrying out any other activity.

In her 2019 article, What is wrong with Work for the Dole – reciprocity fail, former Jobs Australia policy advisor, Dr Simone Casey explains:

...most Work for the Dole activities are in large charities which can run the program at scale... evangelical Church-based charities with enormous factory buildings in industrial estates. In the various rooms of these building there were a range of basic activities available such as bead jewellery (i.e. threading beads onto a string); second-hand clothes sorting (for thrift or opp shops); and furniture restoration (i.e. cleaning and polishing donated goods).

The Salvation Army Annual Report (2019) boasts 10,000 'volunteers' across 340 op shops, St Vincent de Paul claims over 41,000 across all their activities, the Uniting Church 1,700 and the Brotherhood of St Laurence cite 1,200.

The slick Annual Reports where these figures are presented paint the number of 'volunteers' as an indication of the good will their brands enjoy, a blatant misrepresentation of the fact that job-seekers have no negotiating power in dealing with these organisations which also own the Job Active agencies that can cancel their Centrelink payments.

If these so called 'volunteers' are forced to work 25 hours a week at minimum wage amounts to a healthy donation of $500 a week per individual! These charities like to dazzle potential donors with numbers so I thought I'd shed some light on the incredible transfer of wealth from our poorest people to these charities below.

What makes this exploitation more egregious is that these charities also run Job Active agencies bringing in millions more in government funding for sending income support recipients to work in these op shops and cancelling their payments under the flimsiest of pretexts.

The abuse of this system by organisations selling themselves as doing a public good was brought into the open during the #NotADoleBludger campaign in 2019 which was an attempt to fight back against biased media reporting on income support recipients.

The privatised Job Services Australia took over from the government run CES as a response to rising structural unemployment- to create a system which increasingly places the blame and the cost of job shortages on the individuals with the least input into the policy system- easy targets of political spin. Far from creating jobs where there are none to be had, the new system is a thinly veiled mechanism to strip the poorest citizens of their most basic right to social security.

The punitive de-merit system brought in by the Liberals handed the power to suspend Centrelink payments to the corrupt Job Service network. Despite wide-spread rorting by employment services, Work for the Dole was expanded.

As the program grew, injury figures skyrocketed.

If the death of teenager Josh Park-Fing is any indication, industry and government have shown an appalling history of transparency and accountability in protecting the safety of Work for the Dole workers.

Australia has now put our most vulnerable citizens' welfare in the hands of an industry so dysfunctional that the government had to push the reset button on more than one occasion.

While there are billions of dollars for employment services- not to mention $10,000 to each income support recipient forced onto the cashless welfare card- the government claims it can not afford to raise income support levels off the OECD floor.

Forcing people to work while labelling them as unemployed in the midst of a pandemic it has mismanaged on every front is a betrayal of everything the labour movement set out to accomplish.

It is time for this outrage to end.

These (cases of Covid-19) include a woman and a man in their 50s from the Sutherland Shire, who are both close contacts of a previously reported case and have been in isolation. The man is believed to have acquired the virus while working at a Salvation Army store. (SBS)
Under this system, unemployed workers can be completely cut off Newstart if they refuse to attend unsafe work for the dole activities. Even though 64% of sites are failing to meet basic safety standards, jobseekers will be forced to accept any dangerous, hostile conditions they’re met with. (Jeremy Poxon)

This morning I spoke to a 60 year old woman who’s being forced to volunteer at Vinnies 15hrs a week (to receive Jobseeker.) Vinnies told her if she takes time off (like a week off to rest or something) she has to “make up the hours” (ie by working 30hrs the next week.)

— Pearl (@spillthepearl) May 14, 2021
As a member of the Unemployed Workers Union, Mr Blacket has received many such reports, including a man who cut his leg working with machinery and another a week after open-heart surgery working in the hot sun.
'Volunteers' Hours/Week1 week @ Minimum Wage6 months
1 25 $500$13,000Over 50
100 2,500 $50,000$130,000
1,000 25,000 $500,000$1,300,000
10,000 250,000 $5,000,000$130,000,000
1 15 $300$7,800Under 50
100 1,500$30,000 $780,000
1,000 15,000$300,000$7,800,000
DenominationJob Active Agents
Salvation Army177
Uniting Church63
Brotherhood of St Laurence50
Methodist (Wessley Mission)44
The moral and ethical justification for it has always been problematic from a workers rights’ perspective because it disqualifies job seekers from fair wages and the protections of working conditions. (Dr Simone Casey)

thank you for the suggestion Rosie! We're going with #NotDoleBludger

— AUWU #BTPM (@AusUnemployment) July 31, 2019