The Guardian January 26, 2000

Heathens need not apply

by Marcus Browning

Last December when Mission Australia, the Salvation Army, Centacare from 
the Catholic Church, and Wesley Uniting Employment became the biggest 
operators in the Job Network, it was clear that another major step had been 
taken in the privatisation of Australia's welfare system. What was not 
clear at the time was that there were church organisations with job agency 
contracts who intended to make their Christian value system an integral 
part of their operations.

Following the church groups being given the majority of $3 billion worth of 
employment services contracts by the Howard Government, it was revealed 
that certain, thus far unnamed, churches in the system had set down 
religious criteria for employing their job agency staff.

The criteria stipulates that prospective job agency workers will only be 
employed if they have Christian principles and, further, that they must 
worship in the church of their employer.

This latter would certainly be a way of weeding out the heathen pretenders 
who might say they're Christian simply because they want a job.

On the flip side, the agencies could be made to serve a dual purpose; job 
placement and church recruiting station.

Most of the people applying for jobs with the church agencies are former 
experienced staff from agencies which failed to get contracts in the 
tendering process, mainly Employment National, the corporatised remnant of 
the CES which is headed for full privatisation this year.

It is also more than a possibility that job agency workers employed on the 
basis of their Christian values, will be expected to apply those values in 
a discriminatory way when dealing with job applicants.

Minister for Employment Services, Tony Abbott, defended the church agencies 
saying, "Anyone who works [for church job agencies] obviously would have to 
understand the ethos."

He compared the situation to "people getting upset about Christmas carols 
in government-funded pre-schools because they might offend some Muslims".

As the Minister responsible for the contracting out of these services it 
might be pertinent for Abbott to make public his own church connections, 
religious beliefs and the extent of those beliefs.

Certainly it would help sort out any questions of conflict of interest, as 
the privatisation of welfare services, as with the privatisation process in 
general, is by its very nature corrupt.

That is why there are commercial-in-confidence laws to prevent public 
scrutiny of deals between governments and business.

So it is not surprising that a Wesley Mission worker was sacked after 
alleging that management was falsifying job seekers' records so as not to 
lose employment service contracts. The worker must be wondering if this is 
what they mean by Christian principles.

And in December the Government-appointed chairman of Employment National 
had to resign when it was revealed he was also a Mission Australia board 
member and vice-president.

Such developments are put more into context when it is noted that the job 
agencies have quite a pot to divide up between them with their latest 
contracts  more than $700 million.

Job placements will become easier, though, now that the Government is 
extending its work-for-the-dole legislation, roping almost every unemployed 
person into the cheap labour scheme. It is compulsory on threat of having 
unemployment payments stopped.

Community work coordinators from the job agencies will be given powers to 
police the scheme and enforce its provisions.

The Salvation Army is singing its praises, announcing that "the new 
Community Work Coordinator approach will give us the flexibility to work 
with people in an integrated way".

The question is, will joining the flock open the door to a real job?

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