Middle-aged volunteers hit hard with new job-seeking rules
IT WAS only by chance that Gordon Aitkenhead learnt of the imminent change to his job seeker obligations rendering him unable to work as a volunteer.
As of September 20, Mr Aitkenhead, 59, and others in the age bracket 55-59yrs receiving the Newstart (job seeking) Allowance will be unable to volunteer for 15 hours per week as an alternative to applying for work.
Berserker resident Mr Aitkenhead had worked at the JBS meatworks for 13 years before undergoing surgery for a bone growth in his left shoulder.
He spent over a year receiving sickness benefits before shifting to Newstart to support his re-entry into the workforce - despite only 80 per cent movement in his shoulder and being unable to lift his arm past his shoulder.
Believing there wasn't enough local labouring work for someone his age, in his condition, to meet the minimum requirement of 20 job applications per fortnight, he recently commenced volunteering at the CQ Military Museum.
"There just aren't the jobs out there," Mr Aitkenhead said.
"I found out if you're over 55, you can do volunteer work 15 hours a day for St Vinnies or Lifeline to fulfil your requirements while I was searching for work.
"When I took my form to Centrelink they said the legislation's changed and now you've got to be over 60 and that comes in on the 20th of September after being passed by the Senate."
Mr Aitkenhead wondered what impact the change would have on community organisations reliant upon a volunteer workforce.
"I'm working at the CQ Military Museum and I think that about half of their staff who are either volunteers or under the age of 60," he said.
"All of a sudden they've got to find another five or six people so it's going to effect a lot of charities."
Mr Aitkenhead said it was a struggle to get by living on his own on Newstart and admitted that he had reached out to support services including Beyond Blue and Lifeline.
"It does get you down, but I'm still looking for work," he said.
A spokesperson from the Department of Jobs and Small Business said as the changes affected only a small number of job seekers, they were expected to have minimal effect on the volunteering sector.
"Unemployment payment recipients who are aged 55 or over are currently able to fully meet their requirements through undertaking at least 30 hours of any combination of paid or volunteer work," the spokesperson said.
"From 20 September 2018, recipients aged 55-59, during their first 12 months on payment, will only be able to fully meet their requirements in this way if at least 15 of the 30 or more hours are spent doing paid work.
"These changes reflect the fact that unemployment payment recipients should be focused on finding work, particularly when they first come onto payment."
They said job seekers who were unable to fully meet their requirements would be required to undertake job search or undertake other activities designed to assist them to find paid work.
"Some job seekers may be required to undertake 20 job searches per month, but employment services providers are able to reduce the number of job searches a person is required to undertake depending on circumstances (taking into accounts things such as their work capacity or the local labour market conditions)," they said.
"Also, if a job seeker may still be able to continue with their volunteer work if their employment services provider believes it will improve their employment prospects and if the job seeker is still able to look for paid work."