An unemployed Melburnian who complained about the $20-a-week increase to Jobseeker has clashed with Ben Fordham in a fiery interview on radio, after the 2GB host last week told the graphic designer to “get a job”.
Jez Heywood, 47, who is president of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, has been out of work since 2017 due to health conditions and lives rent-free in a granny flat on his parents’ property.
He drew the ire of social media and talkback radio last week after telling The Australian he was “angry” and “annoyed” at the federal government, describing the $2.85-a-day increase as “absolutely nothing”.
Mr Heywood later hit back at criticism online by showing he had applied for 11 jobs in the past fortnight. In response to Fordham’s spray, Mr Heywood slammed the host as a “coward and a bully who’s been taking potshots at welfare recipients from the safety of his cosy radio studio for years”.
Fordham invited Mr Heywood onto his program on Wednesday morning for an extraordinary eight-minute chat, saying he “wanted to see whether we can find Jez a job”.
2GB host Ben Fordham in his Sydney studio. Picture: John Feder/The Australian
FORDHAM: Are you looking for a job at the moment, how’s the search going?
HEYWOOD: I am looking for a job. I have mental health issues so my ability to work is greatly reduced, so it’s hard to find things that, you know, my brain can handle. The last job that I got an email back from Seek from said there were over 100 applicants, so there’s a lot of people out there looking for jobs and it’s a really tough market.
FORDHAM: Those mental health issues have been brought on by not working, right?
HEYWOOD: Yeah, the poverty payments that the government gives us. There’s only so long that you can apply for 20 jobs a fortnight and get absolutely nothing back in return because there are so many people applying for jobs before it breaks you.
FORDHAM: You’re based in Melbourne, we see online that there are 54,000 jobs available right now in Melbourne, that’s on the Workforce Australia website. So none of those 54,000 jobs are suitable to you or you’ve applied for them and they’re just not giving you the nod?
HEYWOOD: I’m applying for jobs that I am suitable for and I’m hearing nothing back
FORDHAM: I reckon we can help your mental health if we get you into a job.
HEYWOOD: Look I’m sure that would help but at the moment, you know, I can’t consistently commit to something. Having a mental breakdown is exhausting, my brain just gets so incredibly exhausted. I couldn’t reliably turn up to a full-time job.
FORDHAM: But it’s the chicken or the egg isn’t it, because you’ve acknowledged those problems were brought on by your unemployment?
HEYWOOD: Yeah but also at the same time the best thing that has happened to me in the past three years was the six months in which the Morrison government doubled Jobseeker and removed all mutual obligations.
FORDHAM: What’s your objection to the mutual obligations?
HEYWOOD: Well there’s not much mutual about it. There’s no wiggle room. I was speaking to a HR person the other day. They’re annoyed by it. They get all these applications because people have to [apply] for jobs or risk losing their benefits.
FORDHAM: Can we help you find a job right now? What kind of job do you want, Jez?
HEYWOOD: I want to get back into graphic design.
FORDHAM: OK, so part-time graphic design in Melbourne?
FORDHAM: Would you be willing to do some heavy lifting if there was a manual labour job out there, out in the sunshine, good for your health, good for your mental health, would you do something like that?
HEYWOOD: I don’t have the physical capability to do that.
FORDHAM: OK, what about something in the service industry as far as, you know, clearing plates or being a glassy in a pub or something like that?
HEYWOOD: The problem with those kind of situations — I have a cousin who runs a supermarket and once I asked him if he would employ me and he said he wouldn’t.
FORDHAM: He wouldn’t?
HEYWOOD: He wouldn’t because I have a postgraduate degree in graphic design and 20 years experience and he would see me as not a full-time employee, he would see me as not a permanent employee. If he had a resume from me and a resume from someone else who had only ever worked in supermarkets, he would take the supermarket guy straight up.
FORDHAM: But that’s where you say to the person who’s got the job, hey listen, I want this job, as opposed to looking for reasons why you can’t do it.
HEYWOOD: I’m not looking for reasons why I can’t do it, I’m telling you about a conversation that I had with someone about their hiring practices.
FORDHAM: Couldn’t you say hey cuz, come on, I need a job here?
HEYWOOD: I did.
FORDHAM: And he brushed you?
HEYWOOD: Yeah. He’s running a business.
FORDHAM: What would you say to anyone out there in the graphic design industry who’s thinking alright I desperately need someone and I’m happy to give Jez a go?
HEYWOOD: Get in contact.
FORDHAM: And you’d be able to work part-time, eight hours a week?
FORDHAM: That’s it?
FORDHAM: Jez I appreciate you coming on the line and I wish you the best of luck with your job search.
Jez Heywood at his home in Carrum Downs. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
Mr Heywood then hit out at Fordham for “calling me a dole bludger on national radio”, with Fordham denying he used those words.
“Well it was inferred by others,” Mr Heywood said.
“I’m not going to be responsible for others, I just want to find you a job, Jez — so do you want me to help out?” Fordham said.
“Do you want me find me a job?” Mr Heywood replied. “Because you’re not saying very nice things about me on the radio.”
Last week, Mr Heywood told The Australian the Jobseeker payment should be at least $88 a day to keep recipients above the poverty line.
The government had been under pressure to increase the Jobseeker payment from $49.50 a day to around $1000 a fortnight, or about $68 a day — 90 per cent of the Age Pension — as recommended by the Department of Social Services’ Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.
Labor said the $24 billion cost to the budget was something it couldn’t afford, but agreed to a much smaller across-the-board increase of $2.85 a day, or about $20 a week.
In his budget speech on Tuesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the Jobseeker increase was all about “helping to deliver a much-needed $4.9 billion boost in support to around 1.1 million Australians looking for work, studying or doing apprenticeships”.
“The pressures on the budget are acute — but as a Labor government we will always strive to help those who need it the most,” he said.
Business Council of Australia (BCA) chief executive Jennifer Westacott, speaking to ABC Radio last week, welcomed the increase to Jobseeker but questioned what the government was doing to get long-term dole recipients into work.
Jobseeker is increasing by $20 a week. Picture: William West/AFP
“You’ve got to fix this system because it’s not working,” she told RN Breakfast.
“There are nearly 40,000 people on Jobseeker who have been on it for 10 years. That tells you the system is not working, something is wrong there. We need to invest in skills, we need to get people that are targeted for jobs that they can get. We need to stop sending people to jobs that they have no chance of getting.”
Ms Westacott said the budget’s foundation skills package should be targeted to “very disadvantaged job seekers” or people who had been on welfare for a long time.
“Over time, we need to get Jobseeker at 90 per cent of the Age Pension, which I think we all agree on,” she said.
“We’ve got to do that in a staged way timed with proper reforms to the way the job services system works. For example, why are we giving providers payments after someone has just been in a job for four weeks when they should be in a job for 26 weeks and it shows that they’ll be in the job for longer? Why aren’t we giving long-term unemployed people a training guarantee so they can upgrade their digital skills and get into the workforce?”
Appearing on the same program, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Michele O’Neil said “more needs to be done to lift people out of poverty”.
“Because one of the things with that payment being so low, is that you don’t have the money to be able to pay rent, you don’t have secure housing, you’re missing meals, you can’t get the data on your phone to be able to look for a job, you can’t pay for the transport to go to job interviews,” she said.
Asked whether the extra $40 a fortnight made those things more achievable, Ms Wood said it was “a start, but it’s not enough”.
Labor MP Julian Hill, chair of parliament’s Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “a myth that all unemployed people are ready to work or able to do the jobs available”.
“In fact, the data shows a giant mismatch between what employers are seeking and the enormously complex caseload of unemployed people including skills gaps, disabilities and illness,” he said.
‘For all the idiots telling me to get a job’Twist in uproar over ‘dole bludger’ couple
“There is strong evidence that the current system has failed to invest in people and is not adapted to their diverse needs, backgrounds, and circumstances. Trotting out stereotypes of ‘dole bludgers’ who should just ‘get a job’ will get a headline but won’t actually change anything. Long-term unemployment won’t be reduced without understanding the actual experiences of people.”