In 1977, the Myers Enquiry into Unemployment Benefit Administration described the Commonwealth Employment Agency as badly managed “even by the standards of government.” Dr Myers criticised the CES for taking on ten make-work or training schemes over three years “in a generally chaotic way.”
In the same year, the Norgard Enquiry into the CES also presented its report which concluded that the CES spent most of its time registering, interviewing and work testing and little time on its primary role of finding jobs. Even in 1977, the CES was widely seen as a huge, poorly trained, ineffective bureaucracy.
So the government threw buckets of money at the problem and now, over twenty years later, the CES is nearly twice as big, twice as expensive and there are twice as many Australians on the dole.
How far do we go before some politician is game to face the public service unions and say “the CES is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem.”
Despite their stated mission, the CES has a vested interest in a big pool of unemployed. Its budget, its workforce and the salary and status of its managers is proportional to the number of unemployed. Unlike private employment agencies, the CES does not rely on providing a service that either employers or employees are prepared to pay for — in fact it depends on the extent of unsatisfied demand in those two groups.
The costs of the CES are staggering. Administration and payroll costs for its staff of over 5000 is above $400 million dollars per year. In addition, a huge amount of capital is tied up in hundreds of offices and computers and total Commonwealth spending on “employment” (excluding the dole) exceeds one billion dollars per year. All for a service that is less efficient than putting ads in newspapers.
The CES was formed in 1946. Despite half a century of experimentation, they still can’t get it right. We still have too many jobs without workers and workers without jobs.
The CES lacks focus. It is used by politicians as an industrial police force, a statistics gatherer, a dole office, a counselling service, a training office, a public charity, a social laboratory and a delivery system for an endless stream of hair-brained make-work schemes from Canberra. How can you take seriously an organisation which is charged with “implementing a range of initiatives which will give its youth strategy a social justice focus”? No wonder front line staff are cynical and disillusioned.
Despite its role in training and counselling, the CES is overloaded with greenhorns who have never met a payroll or held a job in the competitive economy. After decades of frustration they have become militant and politicised, and are used by governments, unions and other ideologues to promote their pet political agenda.
For example, union militants have used CES offices to campaign against government work test guidelines. Insiders also claim that CES staff have doctored job statistics to suit the staffing or career goals of CES managers or the political needs of government or opposition. At some times CES offices have been directed to discourage school-leavers from getting the dole. At other times they choose to act as a conveyor belt onto the dole.
Their political bias became obvious when that CES offices were instructed to refuse service to companies with voluntary employment agreements. At times CES offices have refused to refer job seekers to piece-work or contract jobs on farms and market gardens. Some even maintain black lists of employers who don’t meet their criteria of acceptable employers. Some politically motivated officials would prefer to see young people on the dole rather than working in non-award jobs.
It is time our passionate public protectors were told that some people may prefer any job, no matter how low they pay or status, rather than no job. The best welfare is work. The unemployed, their families and the employers should be free to decide what to accept and what to reject, without secret or open coercion from the professional nannies in Welfare City.
The CES also uses taxpayers funds and unfair trading practices to force private employment agencies out of business.
Firstly, the CES charges nothing for its services — this destroys private business who must offer miraculous service to compete with a price of zero. The CES has also gone beyond its charter by placing ads to attract employed people instead of just finding jobs for the jobless.
Secondly, the CES has access to limitless funds for land, buildings, computers and staff without the bother of issuing a prospectus, paying the interest bill or declaring a dividend.
Thirdly, the CES uses its privileged access to taxpayer funded job subsidies, training allowances and other Santa Claus schemes to bribe both employers and employees to use their service.
Fourthly, the CES forces job seekers to report regularly to qualify for the dole. No other employment agency in Australia can bribe and coerce both employers and job seekers into its offices.
Finally, state and federal governments have harassed private agencies with red tape, registration fees, and prohibitions on charging fees for certain services. Not only do the private agencies have to pay the taxes which support the CES, they have to watch their business being destroyed by its unfair competition.
Despite these advantages, the CES is shunned by all except the naive and those whose real motive is to qualify for a handout or a free service from the government. Private agencies still exist and most of the unemployed have found that family, friends and newspapers are better at finding jobs than the CES. The unfortunate unemployed use it because they need the dole, or because they believe the self-congratulatory advertising of the nationalised job service.
Moreover, because of its role in work testing, too many of those referred by the CES are terrified of being offered a job — they attend interviews solely to qualify for the dole. Employers soon tire of being forced to play in this charade. The CES is thus seen by the unemployed as a dole office and by many employers as an unreliable supplier of second class labour. As Des Keegan says, “Employers generally shun the CES pool because it is polluted with layabouts.”
Enough is enough. If this organisation cannot get its act into gear after 50 years of molly-coddling and handouts it should be abolished.
There is no justification for taxpayers to be supplying this mediocre but costly service to a small segment of our industry and workforce. No matter what the ILO says, we would all be better off if CES offices, singly or in groups, were converted into independent, self-supporting job placement agencies. These could be owned and run by CES staff using premises and equipment leased from the government.
This will allow staff to organise their employment conditions and their operations free of the stifling inefficiency and uniformity of the bureaucracy.
Those who provide a good service in finding jobs will prosper. Those who cannot will find better satisfaction in another occupation.
The statistics, welfare and training functions of the CES should be transferred to the appropriate governments departments, sold or abandoned.
The taxes paid to support costly and ineffective bureaucracies such as the CES are a significant cause of unemployment in Australia. Privatisation will be a fair dinkum step on the long road back to GIVEOURKIDSAJOB.
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