Angry unemployed Canberrans hit back at MPs

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Unemployed Workers Union in the ACT, from left, David Cribb, Karl van Rijsbergen, Tamara Ryan, Caspian Jacobsen, Tim Powell and Al Azmi.

A GROUP of angry unemployed and underemployed Canberrans are taking action after Canberra MPs ignored the bleak living conditions faced by unemployed and underemployed people in the ACT.

This group will be publicly launching the Unemployed Workers Union in the ACT following comments from Canberra MPs who waved away the issues around their living conditions, claiming like Scott Morrison that: “We have one of the best safety nets, if not the best, of anywhere in the world.”

The launch of the Unemployed Worker Union will be take place at the Canberra Food Co-op, from 5.30pm-7.30pm, today (August 9), and will involve a free soup and a discussion to plan their fight back against the “political elite”.

ACT AUWU organiser Caspian Jacobsen believes this issues can’t be ignored, saying: “An ACTCOSS report released last month shows almost 26,000 people are living below the poverty line in the ACT and over 37,000 people in low-income households, including 8000 children.”

“7000 households in the ACT alone are experiencing housing stress which together with homelessness, disproportionately impacts First Nations people,” he says.

“Aunty Judith Kelly, who was forced from public housing with housing developments along Northbourne, will be speaking about this at the event.”

Another ACT AUWU organiser, Tamara Ryan says she got involved in the AUWU because of the outrageous disparity of wealth in Australia.

“When I lived on Youth Allowance (even lower payments than Newstart), I often had to skip meals to get by. I was homeless for a time due to family break down and ended up staying with an abusive partner because I couldn’t afford rent alone,” she says.

“I had a part time job the whole time I was studying which reduced my centrelink payments. Neither were enough to live on. I sometimes had to call in sick for work because I couldn’t afford the petrol or public transport to get to work until pay day.”

“I’m working full time now but am still supporting the group. When MPs get a higher travel allowance in one day than what those on Centrelink get in a week, our system is fundamentally flawed.

“Unemployment is an intentional tactic of the state to keep wages of other workers low so they’re scared to fight for what they’re owed. Unemployment is an issue that affects all workers, and requires us all to fight and change the system.”

ACT AUWU member Ollie also had a negative experience but unlike Tamara’s, Ollie says it was with Newstart.

“Although I could only find a casual job last year, I was told I couldn’t get any support from centrelink,” Ollie says.

“I couldn’t afford to eat, and am literally only alive because my parents gave me some support. We had a terrible relationship though, so this added to my stress.

“I was required to do over 30 job applications because I was put on the jobseeker website trial program, but got an interview for only one which was totally unsuitable anyway.

“Centrelink ended up just wasting an enormous amount of my time and worsening my mental health, while providing nothing. No wonder so many of us forced to steal food.”

Another ACT AUWU organiser, Al Azmi was living as an asylum seeker last year, and as a student has been on both Newstart and Austudy.

“After paying rent, which takes up approximately four-fifths of my fortnightly allowance, I am left with around $11 a day to survive on,” Al says.

“This is extremely hard to do in an expensive city like Canberra, especially when I am currently only working on a casual basis. Financial anxiety is an ever-pervasive problem, and living month-to-month and constantly worrying about if you will be able to pay your rent next month is exhausting.

“Presently, full-time work is an unfeasible option for me because of chronic illness and the fact that I am studying at the Australian National University.

“We need to fight to make sure that everybody, whether it is within their capacity to be employed or not, is able to have a dignified and fulfilled life.”


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