‘We’ve got 200 jobs — pull your finger out!’

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A restaurant owner has invited unemployed Melburnian Jez Heywood to apply for one of nearly 200 vacancies, saying he’s “struggling” to find workers and slamming the Jobseeker increase as “ridiculous”.

Chris Lucas, owner of high-end restaurants including Chin Chin and Grill Americano, weighed in on the tiff between Mr Heywood, 47, and Ben Fordham on Thursday, telling the 2GB host he had “plenty of opportunities”.

“The good news is we’ve got over 150 full-time and part-time jobs currently vacant in Melbourne and about 30 vacancies in Sydney, so we’ve got plenty of opportunities for anyone who wants to pull their finger out and get on with life and get a real job,” Mr Lucas said.

“We’d obviously like to meet Jez and see what kind of character he is but at the end of the day if you’ve got a good character and a good work ethic, and are serious about making a contribution to society rather than being a dole bludger, of course [we are interested].”

Chin Chin restaurant owner Chris Lucas. Picture: Jason EdwardsChin Chin restaurant owner Chris Lucas. Picture: Jason Edwards

Mr Lucas said he was “struggling to get workers”.

“Why would you at a time of record employment go and increase the dole by another $20 a week?” he said.

“To me it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like taking a slab of beer to an Alcoholics Anonymous picnic, it’s ridiculous. To anyone out there struggling to get a job, like I said, we’ve got nearly 200 vacancies at the moment and I’m not the only one, there’s restaurants right across Australia struggling to get workers. Pick up the phone, as long as you’re fair dinkum.”

Graham Wynn from Superior People Recruitment also told the program he had “so many jobs” available.

“I’ve run this business for about 15 years, I’ve got more work on my books than I’ve ever had and yet we’re still finding it difficult to find people to fill these vacancies,” he said.

“I’m happy to look at anybody’s resume at the moment certainly to see if we can help them. We’re crying out for jobseekers. I think we all accept there are people out there who don’t want to work, but if they do want to work there is work out there definitely. For your own self esteem, getting back into work is critical.”

Jez Heywood at his home in Carrum Downs. Picture: Aaron Francis/The AustralianJez Heywood at his home in Carrum Downs. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

Mr Heywood, 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 in the federal budget as “absolutely nothing”.

On his radio show last week Fordham told Mr Heywood to “get a job”.

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”.

Jobseeker is increasing by $20 per week. Picture: Peter WallisJobseeker is increasing by $20 per week. Picture: Peter Wallis

The 2GB host told news.com.au after the show that Mr Heywood had been flooded with job offers and he would be invited back on Thursday to share the “good news”.

But later on Wednesday night, Mr Heywood described the interview as a “cheap publicity stunt” that was “just a distraction from the real issue” of the low rate of Jobseeker.

“Fordham’s cheap publicity stunt is deliberately sweeping the issues I advocate for — which cause so much pain — under the rug, all so he can boost ratings and act like the hero on his own airwaves,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Unless Fordham is willing to dedicate airtime to find every other jobseeker in the country a job, then this is nothing but attempt to shut me up because I had the nerve to stand up to him and call him out. This odious brand of welfare shaming Fordham has done for several days now, and which his shock jock predecessors have done for decades, does incredible damage to people’s mental health.”

In response, Fordham said on Thursday that “we frequently find jobs for people, we’re contacted by people who have jobs or are looking for jobs and match them up”.

2GB host Ben Fordham in his Sydney studio. Picture: John Feder/The Australian2GB host Ben Fordham in his Sydney studio. Picture: John Feder/The Australian

“You’ve told us very clearly that your mental health problems have been created by your unemployment, so we’re here to help,” he said. “Opportunity sometimes knocks softly so you’ve got to learn to listen, and we are lining up job offers for you.”

Ben, the owner of a graphic-design company, told Fordham on air that he had messaged Mr Heywood on Twitter over the weekend offering to help and had now heard back.

“We’ve had a number of conversations now, I’ve sent him some information and seen some work he’s done in the past and he’s got a lot of talent behind him,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to what he can produce for us. I’m actually really confident this is going to be a really good thing.”

Ben said Jez’s story had “made me reflect on my own time 25 years ago when I was forced into a similar position” on unemployment benefits.

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“It’s quite difficult, it’s hard to get off,” he said. “There’s a huge stigma attached to it, you feel as though people look at you a bit differently.”

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