Refugee Council of Australia
Large cardboard Welcome refugees sign in protest

State of the Nation 2017: Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia

Getting a job

Getting a job

In addition to affording people seeking asylum the right to work, the other significant change in the past few years was the change to the system of helping people find employment. The change removed all providers who specialised in helping people from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

A recurrent strong criticism from both service providers and communities was that while job service providers would interfere with English lessons and cut off Centrelink benefits, they did very little to help people in need of protection get a job. Indeed, it creates a significant extra burden on already overstretched providers.

So this is a typical story, every second day at our place… They’ll roll up to the centre very distraught. What’s happened: got no money in the bank, don’t know why. We think we know why, ‘did you do your reporting [to jobactive and Centrelink]?’ What reporting? They don’t understand the reporting. [Our service] phones up jobactive, and they say, ‘oh we sent them a letter.’ What good is that? They can’t even read English. So then the landlord phones and says if your client misses paying their rent once more… we’re going to kick them out. So it’s a miracle that we actually haven’t had somebody literally on the streets kicked out. That is [what] jobactive is, a pure tick and flick. … Our clients would never fare well where they don’t even understand their reporting requirements. Most of them don’t even get an interpreter when they roll up to the jobactive. So the system was really set for our clients to fail.

Quite frankly it’s a debacle for our clients. We’ve done that much damage control. We’ve now got a systemic payment suspension problem because as soon as a client misses their even one of their reporting requirements, their payment is stopped. We’re up to eighty, ninety clients who have their payments suspended for reasons that they don’t understand for which the jobactive [agencies] will not help them…. It’s distressing for the clients, it’s annoying for us.

— Service provider, Western Australia

Many jobactive providers do not generally appear to be culturally competent; often fail to use interpreters; do not appear to be supported in assisting with the additional requirements for this client group; and do not recognise existing skills or qualifications.

So on top of what he was saying about jobactive, they’re not providing interpreters. They’re downgrading people’s qualifications and experience. So by downgrading I maybe mean degrading, like ‘oh yeah you’ve done that but that’s kind of not feasible anymore, yeah you should forget about being a coroner in Australia, you should probably become a cleaner.’ That’s some of the response, some of the trends that we’re seeing. … This is actually qualitative and quantitative data that we’re gathering. Bullying the job seeker as opposed to educating them, like “Oh don’t go and do a six month course, because then that’s going to take you away from that cleaning job that we got you lined up for”, which means the agency still get the payout as I understand. And the one thing that comes out almost in every response is, that they haven’t even helped them to do a resume. The most primary function of finding a job is having a resume.

— Service provider, NSW

People raised other problems with the new jobactive system People would be put into different streams with different levels of support, many people were placed into the wrong stream and not being given enough assistance or reduced income support; and people were asked to go to interviews for which they were not qualified. Most jobactive providers were not set up to help people who were highly educated or with a depth of experience. As well, people were concerned that the system often required people to do things online, when most people did not have such technology available; could not afford to use places such as internet cafes; or did not have the skills to use such technology.

Under jobactive, people seeking asylum were only eligible for a very low level of support. This essentially amounted to access to a computer with no other assistance or direction, which was woefully inadequate for their needs:

Jobactive’s been useless. They told me you just search by yourself using computer and internet, make 15 to 20 entries. They encourage us to get training with no support provided. In their office they let us use computers and internet.


— Person seeking asylum

Where people are finding work, it is often through the efforts of their own communities. However, some of these jobs could lead to exploitation through unsafe work practices and underpayment:

It’s not just the people seeking asylum who don’t have good English, there are those that have very good English but they still don’t want to make waves. They are getting paid, the employer might not have an ABN, or the employer doesn’t declare it so then you aren’t paying tax, I won’t pay you that amount, I will deduct that from your salary. This is happening to well-educated English speakers, not just the uneducated ones. The [reticence] of years of not working, they might be skilled but they do not have the confidence to pursue it or to know the avenues, or the ability to network as they are so downtrodden.

— Service provider, WA

Many people found work through initiatives and effort by supportive individuals and innovative organisations who are keen to contribute and ensure that people are provided ‘a fair go’:

When the fellows put in their application form to drop them off with an agency, invariably they don’t go very far at all. I have a case with a lady from Afghanistan recently, she applied for a job and wasn’t successful. I wondered why. I drove her out to the place of employment where she lodged an application and spoke with the staff and she started within two days. I’m saying that sometimes it is difficult when they see the name that appears on an application form and there’s another twenty or thirty or so names there, if they see a name that might indicate difficulty with English they’re not actually seeing the person. We are trying to arrange more face to face [meetings] and an understanding that these people can relate and they can work and that the employment agencies might not be the best way to go in many cases.

— Service provider, regional NSW

One of the things we’re currently doing is working with a tavern out at Invermay. And they’ve made their kitchen available to our client groups so they can make their food and sell it to the locals. It’s been working so well they’ve extended it. It’s been Filipinos, Sudanese, Bhutanese, Afghans have all done that.

— Service provider, Tasmania

People spoke of other barriers to getting a job in Australia such as difficulties in having skills and qualifications from overseas recognised; the need for work experience; and the challenge of getting international police checks for certain industries such as childcare and aged care.

More positively, people spoke of excellent programs that provide paid work experience and training, which had led to jobs. Such programs invariably succeeded because of networks and collaborations with willing employers, as well as service providers who understood the special needs of people from refugee communities. The NSW government are to be commended on their imitative to create pathways for employment, including the innovative step of opening up NSW government jobs to refugees.

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