Mutual Obligation/Work for the Dole
E-Brief: Online Only issued 27 November 2000, updated 15 June
Analysis and Policy
Social Policy Group
What is in this
Terms such as 'mutual obligation' have emerged in the welfare
context both in Australia and internationally over the past decade.
However, mutual obligation has grown to mean different concepts in
different countries. This e-brief provides information about Mutual
Obligation and Work for the Dole (WfD), as it has evolved in the
Australian welfare context since 1996. The e-brief provides the
evolution of these terms by way of a chronology of their
introduction and development. There are also links to comments and
positions held by the major political parties and major community
representative organisations in Australia. Finally, there are links
to public comments in Australia and also to some overseas
experiences with mutual obligation.
In the context of welfare assistance in Australia, Mutual
Obligation is based on a concept that welfare assistance provided
to the unemployed of working age should involve some return
responsibilities for the recipient. To date, in Australia this has
meant unemployed job seekers on newstart and youth allowance
- actively seek work
- constantly strive to improve their competitiveness in the
- give something back to the community that supports them
Mutual Obligation has not yet been extended to other unemployed
of working age receiving welfare assistance, eg. sole parents,
people with disabilities. However, mutual obligation for these and
other groups is being debated in the context of the Welfare Review.
See also the e-brief on the Welfare Review.
formally required to meet Mutual Obligation
Jobseekers formally required to meet Mutual Obligation activity
requirements are those who are:
- 18 - 24 years old and have been getting newstart or youth
allowance for six months; or
- 25 - 34 years old and have been getting newstart allowance for
Jobseekers are considered to be meeting their Mutual Obligation
requirements when they are undertaking one of the accepted
- Part-time paid work
- Work for the Dole
- Community Development Employment Projects
- Voluntary work
- Green Corps
- Approved Literacy and Numeracy Training
- Part-time study
- New Apprenticeships Access Programme
- Job Search Training
- Advanced English for Migrants Programme
- Intensive Assistance
- Jobs Pathways Programme
- Job Placement, Employment and Training programme
- Career Counselling
More information about the participation requirements for these
activities can be found at the Mutual Obligation
Centrelink web site.
One of the main planks or features of the government's emphasis
on welfare assistance having Mutual Obligation elements has been
the WfD program. WfD is a Government funded program that provides
work experience opportunities and activities for eligible job
seekers. WfD involves local communities in activities that provide
work experience for the unemployed, designed to help the unemployed
re-attach to the labour market. WfD is also designed to provide
communities with quality projects/ activities, which are of value
to those communities. WfD projects are designed to not cross over
or to take jobs away from existing full-time or part-time
Participants are expected to undertake their work experience in
one or more WfD projects/activities for a period of six months. WfD
participation is an approved activity for Mutual Obligation.
WfD Projects can cover a wide range of activities in such areas
- heritage or history
- the environment
- community care
- provision of community services
- restoration and maintenance of community facilities
Jobseekers that can be required to
participate in or can volunteer for WfD
Jobseekers can be asked or can volunteer for WfD if they are
- 18 - 19 year old Year 12 school leaver who has been receiving
Youth Allowance as a jobseeker for three months;
- 18 to 39 year old jobseeker who has been receiving Newstart
Allowance or Youth Allowance for 6 months or more.
In addition, jobseekers who are 18 years old or more and
receiving the full rate of Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance
may volunteer to participate in WfD.
More information about WfD can be found at the
Australian Workplace website.
|Opposition tables WfD
1 April 1987
|Mr Neil A Brown, MP – then
Deputy Leader of the Opposition, submits a proposal to discuss
'Work for unemployment benefits' as a matter of public importance
before the House of Representatives. The coalition parties commit
themselves when in government to introducing a scheme of compulsory
work for the dole. (House Hansard, 1 April 1987 Discussion of
Matter of Public Importance – Compulsory Work for
Unemployment Benefits, pg. 1876).
|Opposition Leader announces
13 December 1988
|The Hon. John Howard, MP – then
Leader of the Opposition, announces that the next Liberal and
National Party Government will establish a "Community Service
Scheme". The scheme is to "provide a real and genuine benefit to
the unemployed through work experience and training; satisfy
general community desire to see the unemployed have the benefits of
active work; reduce abuses in the payment of unemployed benefits
and encourage the voluntarily unemployed to secure genuine
employment." Media Release No.L109/88 – 'Working for
Australia: An Active Approach to Unemployment'.
|WfD Legislation introduced to
19 March 1997
|Federal Minister for Schools,
Vocational Education and Training, The Hon. Dr David Kemp, MP -
introduces the legislative framework for WfD to Parliament. Media
release No. K10/97 - Work
for the Dole Legislation.
|WfD Pilot announced
13 May 1997
|A 12-month WfD pilot scheduled to
commence from September 1997. The pilot is funded at $21.6 million
and will enable 10,000 participants, between the ages of 18 and 24,
who have been unemployed for at least six months, to take part in
the pilot. Media release No. K24/97 – Work
for the Dole Initiative.
|WfD Pilot commences
3 December 1997
|A total of 22 WfD projects commenced
by 3 December 1997 with more than 300 participants. Media release
No. K82/97 – Work
for the Dole Starts Today.
|Enhanced Mutual Obligation
28 January 1998
|Enhanced Mutual Obligation
arrangements announced for 18 to 24 year olds. From 1 July 1998 all
young unemployed people who have been receiving unemployment
payments for six months will be required to undertake an additional
activity in return for receiving payments. Media release No. K4/98
young people to take responsibility for their own future.
|WfD Pilot expanded
14 April 1998
|New WfD projects announced to start
between August 1998 and February 1999. These projects are expected
to involve 25,500 participants. Media release No. K23/98 –
Work for the Dole Projects.
|Formal Mutual Obligation
12 May 1998
|The Government announces it will spend
$465.5 million over the coming four years to assist young
unemployed people find work. Key elements of the package are:
- Expansion of work for the dole
- New literacy and numeracy programmes
- Additional places for young people under Job Network
- New career counselling programs.
Media release No. K36/98 - $465.5
million to assist youth to find jobs.
|New Mutual Obligation
1 July 1998
|All 18-24 year olds who have been
unemployed for six months or more must participate in an additional
approved activity in order to receive full unemployment benefit.
Media release No. K52/98 – New
Mutual Obligation Requirements Start Today.
|301 new WfD projects
26 July 1998
|WfD pilot expanded with the
announcements of 301 new WfD projects and project conditions. Media
release No. K57/98 – 301
New Work for the Dole Projects
|Second round of WfD projects
18 December 1998
|The Government provides an extra $20
million to fund more than 388 new WfD projects. The new projects
will provide 13,000 places. 80% of will be for those aged 18-24
years, the remainder of places will be available for older
unemployed people. An additional $100 million over four years
announced to fund WfD places for Year 12 school-leavers. Media
$20 million for 13,000 new Work for the Dole Places.
|Government compare WfD with
17 February 1999
|Comparison of cost of WfD program for
employment outcomes against Working Nation. Media release –
Work for the Dole working for the unemployed.
|Third round of WfD programme
24 March 1999
|New WfD projects to start between
August 1999 and February 2000 expected to create an additional
15,000 places. Media release –
New Work for the Dole Projects.
|WfD expanded to include Year
19 April 1999
|Expansion of access to WfD for Year 12
school-leavers who have been unemployed for three months or more.
Media release –
Work for the Dole Expanded to include Year 12
|WfD Evaluation Report
26 May 1999
|An evaluation of the WfD pilot program
prepared by the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and
Small Business released 26 May 2000. Media release –
Work for the Dole: It's working for Australia. The evaluation
report is available, see - Evaluation of
the Work for the Dole Pilot Program.
|Administration of WfD projects
to be tendered to Community Work Coordinators
11 June 1999
|WfD program expansion enhanced by the
introduction of community based work coordinators.
|Third round of WfD
13 July 1999
|Government commits $32 million for
nearly 700 new WfD projects. This will create nearly 20,000 places
over the coming six months. Media release -
$32 million for 20,000 new Work for the Dole places.
|Minister Abbott spells out
aims and objectives of WfD
5 August 1999
|Minister Abbott explains why WfD is
good economic policy. Media release -
Abbott Tells Ceda Why Work For The Dole Is Key Component Of Good
|Government announces major
Social Policy Reform agenda
29 September 1999
|Minister Newman announces that social
policy is the next major reform priority of the Government, this
includes a stronger framework of mutual obligation.
|WfD 2000 launched
17 December 1999
|119 organisations given conditional
offers of business under the WfD 2000 tender. The Government
commits nearly $139 million to create additional 65,000 places in
WfD projects. Media release -
$139 Million For 65,000 Places Under Work For The Dole
|Mutual Obligation requirements
modified to encourage Olympic work
23 February 2000
|Media release No. 00/12 - Sydney Jobs
|Preparing for Work
2 March 2000
|The Government launches Preparing for
Work Agreements as an important part of its Mutual Obligation
strategy. Media Release -
Getting Job Seekers Back To Work.
|430 new WfD projects
16 May 2000
|The third round of WfD 2000 projects
announced, creating another 6,069 places for eligible job seekers.
Media release 00/33 - 430 New Work For The Dole 2000 Projects.
|238 new WfD projects
15 June 2000
|The fourth round of WfD 2000 projects
announced, creating another 3,833 places for eligible job seekers.
Media release -
238 New Work For The Dole Projects.
|240 new WfD projects
12 July 2000
|The fifth round of WfD 2000 projects
announced, creating another 4,005 places for eligible job seekers.
Media release -
240 New Work For The Dole 2000 Projects.
14 July 2000
|Government extends Mutual Obligation
to job seekers in Sydney who have been unemployed for three months
or more. Media release -
Extra Assistance To Jobseekers In Sydney.
|Study confirms success of
26 July 2000
|Evaluation of WfD by the Department of
Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business claims that the
WfD program has a positive impact on gaining employment or entering
education or training. Media release -
Study Confirms Success Of Work For The Dole.
|WfD Net Impact
|Study of WfD by the Department of
Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business claims that the
WfD program participants have a significantly enhanced result in
terms of accessing employment, education or training. See -
Work For the Dole: a Net Impact Study.
WfD expanded to include participants aged to 39
|Government expands Mutual Obligation from July 1,
2002, introducing WfD for unemployed people aged 35-39 and making
involvement optional for job seekers aged 40-49 years. Media
Government to Expand Work For The Dole.
ANAO releases report on management of WfD
7 March 2001
|The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)
releases report -
Management of the Work for the Dole Program. The report found
that administration of the Programme had been generally efficient
and effective but made recommendations regarding the Community Work
Coordinators Administrative model and contract monitoring.
Over 5000 WfD projects approved since 1997
21 June 2001
|Since the pilot round in 1997, 5 714 WfD projects
have been approved, providing places for nearly 130 000
Australians. Media release -
Thousands more Work for the Dole opportunities.
National total for WfD projects reaches
1 April 2002
|The national total of WfD projects reaches 8544
and nearly 172 000 places. Media release -
Work for the Dole passes 1500 project mark in Queensland.
Government introduces Training Credits
1 July 2002
|Work for the Dole placement will qualify job
seekers for Training Credits of up to $800. Media release -
Work for the Dole Passes 9000 Projects.
UNSW Study on WfD published
|The Centre for Applied Economic Research at the
University of New South Wales publishes study: Work for the Dole -
Obligation or Opportunity. The study found that WfD does help
participants find jobs; Departmental guidelines reduce felxibility
and autonomy; and the program is underfunded. Parliamentary Library
Cat No. 331.137994NEV
15 535 WfD approved across Australia since
11 December 2003
|Since 1997, 15 535 projects across Australia have
offered 261 929 opportunities for unemployed Australians. Media
New and Varied Work for the Dole opportunities.
Independent Study evaluates WfD
Work for the Dole - A pathway to self-esteem and employment
commitment, or the road to frustration?, carried out by
independent researchers from the University of South Australia and
the University of Melbourne finds that the WfD program fails the
most disadvantaged jobseekers.
17 538 WfD projects approved across Australia since
26 May 2004
|Since 1997, 17 538 projects across Australia have
offered 285 639 opportunities for unemployed Australians. Media
Work for the Dole Working for the Nation.
|WfD does not create
13 May 1998
|Democrat position on WfD is that it
does not create jobs. Media release 98/296 -
Where are the Jobs?
|Democrats demand WfD guarantee
17 December 1999
|Democrats call for the government not
to reduce mutual obligation waiting periods. Democrats claim that
forcing job seekers straight into mutual obligation and WfD
activities decreases their opportunity to seek work and does not
give job seekers the opportunity to seek work independently. Media
release No. 0713nsd - Democrats demand Work for the Dole guarantee
from Scrooge Government.
|WfD marginalises the most
disadvantaged job seekers
17 December 1999
|Democrats criticise Mutual Obligation
and WfD. The criticisms are:
- discriminates against the most disadvantaged job seekers
- there's been no assessment of the real effectiveness of WfD in
- expanding WfD is anti-worker
- puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of lower
Media release No. 0712ab -
Work for the Dole, anti-welfare, anti-worker: Another peek at
Howard's welfare 'reform' agenda
|WfD forces the unemployed
through the motions of work
12 May 1999
|Media release -
Work for the Dole extension a cruel hoax on jobseekers.
More funding for intensive assistance not
7 August 2000
|Democrats criticise the government for reducing
the Intensive Assistance program by $80 000 to be used to expand
the WfD program. Media release No. 00469
Job Network Reform: fund Intensive Assistance, not Work for the
|WfD doesn't measure up to
Labor Jobstart Wage Subsidy Program
12 April 1999
|Criticism that the government is
diverting funding away from unemployment issues. Media release -
Enough Bluff - What About Jobs?
|Labor would modify
25 July 1999
|Mr Martin Ferguson, MP, then shadow
Minister for Employment, Training and Population, stated that the
ALP would change WfD so that there is a stronger focus on training
and work skills. Meet the Press'
|Mutual obligation is a one way
street. WfD is not the answer
17 December 1999
|Mr Wayne Swan, MP, shadow minister for
Family and Community Services, is critical of Governments welfare
strategy. Media release -
The Great Welfare Charade.
|Government not capable of
striking balance between incentive and compulsion
17 December 1999
|Doorstop interview with the Leader of
the Opposition, the Hon. Kim Beazley, MP about WfD and mutual
|OECD says WfD fails to provide
the real work experience that employers are looking for
21 December 1999
|Media Release - OECD Says Regional
Australia Deserves Better Than Work For The Dole.
|Labor would change
10 July 2000
|Ms Cheryl Kernot, MP - ALP
spokesperson for employment, stated that Labor would not scrap WfD,
if elected, however they would modify WfD in order to provide young
people with more meaningful outcomes. See Radio National transcript
Job Network, Work For The Dole.
|Mutual Obligation is a cost
26 July 2000
|Mutual obligation isn't about helping
people find jobs, it's a way to contain the welfare cost blowout.
Media release -
So Far, Abbott's Way Is More About Punishment Than
Old Labor scheme reintroduced
14 May 2001
|Labor says allowing WfD participant's access to
training under the new 'transition banks' scheme is a renaming of
Labor's 'Earning Credit Scheme' which was abolished in 1997. Media
Training Reversal for Work for the Dole.
Labor releases WfD figures
6 March 2004
|Labor figures show that WfD program achieved
consistently poor employment outcomes for jobseekers. Media release
"Work for the Dole" helps fewer and fewer into a job.
Representative Groups and
|The Australian Council of
Social Service (ACOSS)
||ACOSS has expressed some views about
the WfD program:
"Work for the Dole is a deeply limited program that is not even
designed to improve the employment prospects of unemployed
Other ACOSS comments have been:
- there have always been requirements on people receiving
unemployment payments to undertake certain activities.
- there is no training component in the program, meaning many
participants will not acquire transportable and accredited
- there is no mechanism to ensure that the activities undertaken
by individuals are appropriate for them and will improve their job
- the program singles out one group – young people –
among all of those who are unemployed and in so doing, potentially
exacerbates misconceptions in the community about the willingness
of young people to work.
For more information see ACOSS briefing
New paternalism: the demise of rights-based welfare, an article
by Dr Deborah Brennan in the ACOSS monthly IMPACT – July
2000, page 8 (S361.994 AUS).
"The government's policy of Mutual Obligation is an example of a
new conservative approach to social policy. This approach
potentially marks the demise of a rights-based welfare system."
|Brotherhood of St
28 January 1998
|Bishop Michael Challen, Executive
Director, Brotherhood of St Laurence made some comments about WfD
in its response to the Prime Minister's proposals for young
unemployed people in his First Annual Federation Address –
Jan 1998. Media release - Response to the Prime Minister's
proposals for young unemployed people in his First Annual
Challen provided further comment on WfD in a media release on
24/7/1997 - Compulsory 'Work For The Dole' Scheme Will Generate
Resentment Among The Young.
Brotherhood of St Lawrence Submission to the Community Affairs
Legislation Committee 14 April 1997 argued that the resurfacing of
WfD policy is disturbing for three reasons:
- the language of 'the dole' is a step back into history
- the proposal ignores many useful programs through which the
Government could assist young unemployed people
- WfD will have negative consequences both for individuals who
are compelled to participate and for their sponsoring
|Australian Youth Policy and
Action Coalition (AYPAC)
||AYPAC set out some views on WfD in a
Policy Statement and also in a Supplemental Submission to the
Senate Community Affairs Committee. The AYPAC stated view on WfD
"a response to declining youth labour market that should
include a compulsion that young people participate in programs that
force them to perform work for continued receipt of income support
should be rejected"
AYPAC further claimed WfD programs do not provide a solution to
the central problem, ie. a lack of real sustainable jobs that will
provide an independent living income. Also, WfD does not solve
youth unemployment, rather it forces young people to perform work
no one else wants to do for below poverty line income.
|NSW Council of Social Services
||NCOSS expressed views on Mutual
Obligation in a Media release - Make a genuine future,
not a living hell for Young People, on 29 January 1999. The
NCOSS view was that the Government's notion of mutual obligation,
particularly with young people, is more about punishment of those
who are the victims of the last decade of economic reform in
Australia, rather than reciprocal partnership with the Australian
|Community attitudes towards
unemployment, activity testing and mutual obligation
Tony Eardley, Peter Saunders & Ceri Evans, 2000.
|A discussion paper containing the
results of a community survey was produced by the University of New
South Wales Social Policy Research Centre (No. 107, May 2000) -
attitudes towards unemployment, activity testing and mutual
||WfD has nothing to do with creating
jobs, or maintaining the morale of the unemployed, but is bound up
with the provision of cheap labour, and the further erosion of
wages and conditions. Media release - The real meaning of
work-for-the-dole - March 21 – April 4 1997.
|Working for the dole: Making
young people responsible OR blaming the victims
Bronwyn Pike - Evatt Victoria Centre, 1997.
(331.137994 p WOR)
|Bronwyn Pike puts her view in this
article that WfD places unfair pressure on the unemployed as it
tells them 'you owe us'. She also argues that WfD may provide a
pool of free labour and replace existing jobs.
|Helping the poor: A qualified
case for 'Workfare'
John Richards et al, C. D. Howe Institute, 1995. (362.580971
|"Canadian governments are spending a
lot of money on welfare, with dubious results". This book looks at
current welfare programs and assesses their effectiveness. The book
compares Canada's policies to those in the USA and includes a
chapter about 'Putting the poor to work: Why workfare is an idea
whose time has come'.
|Workfare: Does it work? Is it
Patricia Evans et al, Institute for Research on Public Policy -
|The notion of linking welfare payments
to participation in public work or training programs is at the
forefront of debate in Canada, the USA and Europe. This book
explores the moral principles and politics of workfare, and looks
closely at the Canadian debate.
|Employment and Training
Schemes for the Unemployed
Julia Lourie, Business and Transport Section, House of Commons
(ANAL S 909.09 RES)
|This research paper provides an
account of the main employment and training schemes that exist in
Britain in 1997/98. It also contains brief notes on schemes that
have been tried since WWII.
Desmond King, The politics of welfare and unemployment
policy in the United States and the Great Britain, University
of Chicago Press, 1995.
|This book called - Actively
seeking work? provides an analysis of the programs of
unemployment and workfare in Britain and the USA, and explains
|Diagnosis is a bitter pill for
Dr Bettina Cass, the Australian newspaper.
18 August 2000
|Dr Bettina Cass wrote in the
Australian on 18 August 2000 about mutual obligation issues arising
from the Welfare Review considerations of welfare reform.
"welfare reform will focus on 'social partnerships', but a
large number of the most disadvantaged may find themselves sitting
in the most troublesome and problematic position in these
|The Australia Institute
Working Australians should be grateful to the
unemployed: new report
14 August 2000
|The Australia Institute issued a media
release on 14 August 2000 - Working Australians should be grateful to
the unemployed: new report, which referred to a research paper
by Dr Pamela Kinnear that the Howard government's mutual obligation
principle does not stand up to ethical scrutiny.
|Mutual obligation: what kind
of contract is this?
Australian Institute of Family Studies, Peter Saunders 2000.
(R 361.680994 Ref)
|In a book called 'Reforming the
Welfare State presented by Peter Saunders, Chapter 7 by Anna
Yeatman is called 'Mutual obligation: what kind of contract is
this?' and discusses:
- Mutual obligation and the new paternalism
- Mutual obligation as a cluster of values
- A paternalism contractualism?
- Reconciling paternalism with individualism
- Mutual obligation evaluated
|Mutual obligation: policy and
practice in Australia compared with the UK
Richard Curtain for the Dusseldorp Skills Forum.
20 July 2000
|Discussion paper presented by the
Dusseldorp Skills Forum presenting an assessment of how the concept
of mutual obligation is implemented in Australia compared with the
United Kingdom - Mutual
obligation: policy and practice in Australia compared with the
|Social welfare and individual
responsibility - for and against
David Schmidtz and Robert E Goodin, Cambridge University Press,
|This book is a very broad ranging
discussion across social welfare issues discussing responsibilities
of the State and the individual, and touching on issues such as
morality of incentives and deterrence, concepts of welfare justice
and can you apportion fault to welfare recipients.
For copyright reasons some linked items are only
available to Members of Parliament.
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