Let’s say you’re a worker in Victoria and you get fired, but you don’t qualify for Legal Aid and you can’t afford a solicitor. The industrial relations laws, however, have just become so complicated. Didn’t Howard change things? Didn’t Rudd change them back? Thankfully, you can call JobWatch for help.
JobWatch is an employment rights legal centre which provides assistance to Victorian workers about their rights at work. They run a free and confidential telephone information and referral service for Victorian workers, they work to educate the community on employment law and workers’ rights, they campaign on law reform and promote workplace justice and equity for all Victorian workers. They are an independent, not-for-profit organisation funded by the Victorian Government.
Well, they were funded by the Victorian Government. Last week’s state budget has sounded the death knell for JobWatch. The organisation had been getting ready to celebrate its thirtieth birthday this year. Now, if they can’t find alternate funding, they will close their doors on 30 June.
Have a look at JobWatch’s website and click through the topics they deal with. The scope of their advice is massive – everything from superannuation to dodgy job ads to employment contracts to discrimination and dismissals. It’s unsurprising that the volume of calls to their helpline is already too great for them to cope with. Rumour has it that only around 30 per cent of callers get through for the advice they are calling for. Surely if 70 per cent of callers to JobWatch can’t get through, we should be increasing funding for the service rather than cutting it.
It must be that all the information JobWatch provides is freely available elsewhere, I hear you say. Because government has a responsibility to ensure that its constituents have free and ready access to information about the laws that affect them; the very laws that parliament enacts, made by the very parliamentarians whose wages we taxpayers pay.
There are limits to the information government services can provide, and they often can’t give you the kind of help you really need. Take unfair dismissals, for instance. The only other free service for Victorians that might be able to give you information about unfair dismissals is the tribunal that hears your case. They can tell you which form to fill out but they can’t give you an opinion on the merits of your case. Who can do that? JobWatch. The Fair Work Ombudsman can tell you what the statutorily enforceable minimum wage is for your work, but their hands are tied when it comes to any rate of pay above that. What about those other things in contract you signed when you started that all sound a bit strange? Or if you think you’re being discriminated against? You don’t need a government service. You need a legal opinion. And the fact is that the people who most need lawyers for these kinds of things are typically the ones least in a position to afford it.
The Victorian Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, The Hon. Richard Dalla-Riva, has advised JobWatch that it is his ‘assessment that the activities for which the previous government provided funding are no longer clearly aligned to the objectives of [his] department’.
I wrote a letter to Mr Dalla-Riva. I told him I was concerned about the imminent closure of the service. I told him I was worried that workers would not have access to the help that JobWatch provides and asked him and his government to reconsider. Mr Dalla-Riva emailed me a media release that told me how dishonest the Labor government is. Thank you Mr Dalla-Riva, but that has nothing to do with my concerns … I don’t care which government funds JobWatch or whether it was Labor’s intention to pull the money. Your government is in power. You are pulling the funds.
Overland readers, consider putting pen to paper (or an attachment to an email). Visit the JobWatch website, where you can download a form letter and relevant contact details. Then head to GetUp and nominate JobWatch as worthy of their campaigning.
And just hope you get the sack before 30 June.