The Australian Unemployed Workers Union has ratcheted up its public feud with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash by launching a ‘Call Out Cash’ campaign.
The volunteer organisation, run by unemployed workers, will encourage welfare recipients to fill out an online survey about their experiences of being long-term unemployed, which will be sent to the Minister’s office.
AUWU president Owen Bennett said he hoped the campaign would “better educate” Ms Cash and her parliamentary colleagues “on all the good work the AUWU does to better the lives of the unemployed workers it serves and represents”.
“Without offering any proof, Minister Cash has dismissed the AUWU as a nefarious organisation that encourages unemployed workers to break social security law. We reject that narrative completely, and so do our members,” he told The New Daily.
In recent weeks, the Employment Minister said taxpayers would be “offended” by the “so-called union” because its sole purpose appeared to be “keeping members out of gainful employment and encouraging them to shirk their responsibilities”.
Mr Bennett denied the claims.
“The AUWU informs unemployed workers about their rights when dealing with the government’s unregulated and punitive $10 billion employment services industry – an industry in which penalties have increased 50 per cent under Cash’s administration.”
The volunteer organisation is not a registered union. It is an incorporated association registered in Victoria. It has roughly 6500 members and provides a free website and hotline to give advice to welfare recipients.
The New Daily asked Mr Bennett why he and other long-term volunteers at the AUWU had not found work.
He replied: “Like the 2.8 million other Australians looking for work, long-term AUWU volunteers have been locked out of the labour market. Currently there are 17 job seekers competing for every job vacancy going by the official figures.”
Ms Cash’s attack was prompted by revelations in the Courier Mail that Greens senator Lee Rhiannon had donated to the AUWU.
Senator Rhiannon reiterated that support on Friday, telling The New Daily it is “an important organisation”.
“They’re annoying the Minister, but they are a reminder that the government policy is atrocious. We need organisations like the AUWU to be up there representing, organising and mobilising unemployed workers and assisting them with information, as life often gets really tough for them,” she said.
“The Minister is just way out of line when she chose to insult people who are coming together collectively to organise to improve their situation. To make the comments she did about their use of benefits and how they work is very insulting to unemployed people, particularly when we consider that the government’s own policies result in higher rates of unemployment.”
The New Daily requested comment from the Employment Minister’s office.