Dutton attacks workers and asylum seekers with one blow

Three hundred staff at the Australian Red Cross have been sacked as the federal government unleashes its latest attack on asylum seekers. The Home Affairs Department has implemented sweeping cuts to asylum seeker assistance services. 

Seeking asylum in Australia is a notoriously slow and complex process. After lodging a protection application, an asylum seeker can wait two years before their first interview. If the first decision on their case is negative, appeals add years to the process. 

Asylum seekers can apply for the Home Affairs’ Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program, which includes a Centrelink payment; this too is a long and complicated process. Most applications for the SRSS program are refused. 

Those lucky enough to receive support will receive a Centrelink payment only 89 percent of what a permanent resident gets.

Contracts to run SRSS are given to social welfare providers, including the Red Cross. Home Affairs closely monitors the contracts, requiring providers to adhere to strict guidelines and meet so-called key performance indicators. 

But without support, many asylum seekers struggle to make their way through the maze of systems and schemes, which are difficult to navigate. 

Now, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has decided that even this meagre assistance is too much. Dutton has ordered all asylum seekers with work rights to get a job (as if it were that easy). Over the next few months, all asylum seekers with work rights will be cut off SRSS payments and support, unless they meet strict eligibility criteria. 

At the moment, there is one job vacancy for every seven unemployed people in Australia. Imagine how hard it is to secure this job when your qualifications aren’t recognised, or you have health issues, or cannot speak a word of English or if your work rights last only three months at a time. 

Sound reasonable? Even Dutton probably doesn’t think so. But these changes have one purpose: to make life unbearable for asylum seekers. 

As of February, there were 13,299 asylum seekers receiving SRSS. These numbers are expected to drop drastically. This is how Home Affairs can now justify ending its contract with the Red Cross. 

In Victoria, two other providers, AMES Australia and Life Without Barriers (LWB) have kept their contracts and will get Red Cross’ remaining clients. AMES and LWB are hiring new staff to support the influx of Red Cross clients, but these workers are being offered only three-month contracts. 

Existing AMES staff are also being asked to apply for their own jobs again, and those who succeed will be placed on these three-month contracts. Meanwhile, the majority of LWB staff are on maximum term contracts, allowing for their dismissal with notice at any time. AMES and LWB staff have been told to expect job losses as asylum seekers are steadily thrown off support. 

It will take a united and determined campaign to demand that asylum seekers have access to support and that the workers who provide it are not subject to precarious and shifting working conditions.