A UNION for the unemployed may seem like a contradiction in terms but that’s exactly what an organisation setting up shop in Frankston is all about.
Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union volunteers will host fortnightly meetings at Frankston Arts Centre to help people on the dole negotiate the welfare system and know their rights when dealing with Centrelink and job agencies.
“Our mission at the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union is to fight for the basic human rights of unemployed Australians, most of whom are living in poverty,” the group’s mission statement says. “We are fighting back against Australia’s unfair welfare system. It was recently revealed that the basic Newstart payment is only half of what Australians need to live out of poverty.”
Frankston co-organiser Paul Callanan said the Frankston branch of the AUWU is open to people “from Portsea to Mentone and Crib Point to Cranbourne” and it is free to join.
“It makes sense to have a Frankston branch taking in all those areas,” he said.
The organisation “run for the unemployed by the unemployed” is not a registered union and is an incorporated association, according to Consumer Affairs Victoria records.
The group’s website declares “official endorsements from National Union of Workers (NUW) and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU)”.
Federal Liberal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash slammed the AUWU in June, saying the group’s “sole purpose appears to be keeping members out of gainful employment and encouraging them to shirk their responsibilities.”
Mr Callanan — a former taxi driver, multi-storey plumber and employee of the Cain government era Victorian Economic Development Corporation — said he is helping the AUWU with spreading the word about the nascent Frankston branch online.
The AUWU is calling on all Centrelink payments to be increased to $517 a week; work for the dole programs to be abolished and the axing of privately owned job agencies in favour or reinstating the Commonwealth Employment Service to get the unemployed back to work.
AUWU Frankston branch convener Fae Roth, a Hastings resident and former factory company director, said she got involved in helping the organisation after hearing about its work on community radio station 3CR.
“I don’t think the general public realises how tough some people are doing it,” she said. “Unemployment, redundancies and job losses are affecting people directly more than anything else I can think of in horrific ways.”
She said the factory she worked at for many years was eventually forced to shut its doors due to cheap overseas imports.
The group opposes mandatory drug testing for the unemployed, increased waiting times for the dole and “the completely unjustified expansion of cashless welfare” featuring debit cards for those receiving welfare payments.
An editorial in the September edition of its Fightback! newsletter states: “With the Australian Labor Party and a number on the cross bench failing to commit to voting one way or the other on a number of issues, it’s up to us to let them know why they should oppose these punitive measures”.
“I’m hoping our Frankston branch will be the prototype and role model that will inspire AUWU branches to open up all over Melbourne,” Ms Roth said.
“It’s just so extreme what the parliamentarians get compared to how the unemployed are treated.”