This is a follow on from my previous blog post Drug Testing and the LNP’s ongoing stigmatization of the poor. After quite a large ongoing debate on Twitter and in comments yesterday, I wanted to clarify some points.
Here is the link to the news story relating to the previous blog post. Now we have mandatory drug testing being flagged for people in receipt of unemployment benefits. For those who haven’t caught up yet.
There were many comments following my last blog post, including quite a debate on Twitter. I am writing to clarify some comments and also the reason I have concerns with this move by the Government.
To answer some of the questions – Have I been drug tested? Who cares? No one’s business. What is my personal experience with drugs? Who cares? No one’s business. Why are you “Pro-Drugs?” Um… I’m not.
I have found these Questions on twitter and in comments a bit weird. I’ve copped some odd questions in the past 24 hours, from those who support the drug testing of recipients of unemployment benefits.
Amongst other reasons, my passion for writing this story comes from two incidents when I worked in recruitment years ago. As we know many sites do pre-employment drug testing. There were a few times where people failed and they gave heads up prior to the test. When you do work in recruitment, you learn not to judge people as the most unlikely stereotypes have come back with a negative screen. This is what the Government is trying to do. Maintain a discourse and public perception of stereotypes – negative stereotypes.
Two incidents remain with me. One was a young lad who was on injections for a psych disability. He was well managed and was already working and was looking for a better job. He was a suitable applicant and the employer liked him and asked for the pre-employment testing to be done. He said he had trouble before with tests and had a letter from the hospital. He came back positive for three drugs (one was not THC, which is the most common negative screen). I remember one was amphetamines. The employer refused to take him (although he did have a letter) and the biggest one of all was the tester at the lab (the head tester, as I’d asked to go to the top) specified there was no way of knowing if he was on illicit drugs as well as injections and medications for psych illness. So no support from the lab to give to the employer. The employer said, even if he could, it would never get through head office. He was not hired. He left dejected, but understood as he was already used to misconceptions about who he was and had already experienced this before.
The other incident was another person who returned positive for THC (marijuana) . He and his wife were in tears insisting they were good people and had never ever taken any drugs. They were visibly shocked. He said that the night before he had gone to a club and his friends were smoking in the toilets. He said he was not. He said he didn’t even have a drink as he was designated driver (there was a lot of anxiety going on at this time – as I said he was nearly in tears, his wife was in tears). Once again the employer wouldn’t take him. Once again, I approached the tester and once again the head tester and they said passive intake is like a million to one. Highly unlikely. I approached my manager. She told me not to be so naive and had a laugh. I had a gut feeling this man was telling the truth, but my hands were tied. I convinced the employer to allow him to take a follow up test. I think it was the next day or the day after, he come back with a negative screen and got the job. He was there for longer than I was at the recruitment company and feedback was always good. (I also followed up and asked my own doctor about this and my doctor did not agree with the lab tester and said that passive inhalation for a positive screen can occur.)
The reason why I am passionate about this, as I have worked across all types of recruitment, private labour hire, Government Job Search and disability employment. I have worked with all different types of employers and all different types of job seekers, and I have seen inequity and unfairness in recruitment & selection, including drug testing. As you can see in both examples given, the testers only look at the screen and don’t support any other reasoning for why. It doesn’t measure frequency. THC can show up for up to two weeks to a month for regular user of marijuana. People will have their income revoked if the same thing happens to them. People will have their income revoked, even if they didn’t purchase said drug, but participated in a ‘recreational’ or ‘experimental’ activity for the first time. They will have a record as a ‘drug addict’
My previous blog post isn’t about drugs. My blog post is about the Government setting down rules that are ideal to them of what is good behaviour and deviant behaviour from their viewpoint.
For those that missed the message of my previous blog post, let me clarify:
For those who say false positives hardly ever happen. This is why my previous blog post, addresses false positives. They may not happen every time, but there is an abundance of research in this area to support that they do happen. My two examples show that false positives affect real people, affecting real lives. In one town, in Australia, over a period of six months. Imagine this occurring on a wider scale.
We can clearly see from this agenda is that there is a risk of innocent people being taken off income, unfairly. We can see that there will be people stigmatized through this testing. We can see that there will be people who do not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process (example 1) and some that do (example 2). We can see that the person who did not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process had a co-morbidity of mental illness. There will be people without a co-morbidity of a mental illness, who also will not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process. Especially those who have had negative experiences in the past with raising complaints and some who feel it is too complicated or may be fearful it may hurt them in the future.
For those that say that “most people I know on welfare are on drugs” or “They sell drugs outside centrelink.” There are also many who do not take drugs and need benefits to survive. There may be drug dealers outside your centrelink, but I haven’t heard of that in my town. However, I was approached in the laundromat once. Maybe people who need to wash their king sized doona at the laundromat are all drug users….not!
Australian statistics show that of illicit drug users 24% cite unemployed as their labour force status. 76% of drug users take up the other labour force status groups. More interesting is the stats on socio economic status, which have for the most recent illicit drug users is 15% average across all groups. This clearly states that the highest socio economic status has exactly the same use experience as those in the lowest and middle socio economic groups. So for those already convinced that nearly all those on welfare are all on drugs. The facts do not support your delusions.
The biggest frustration I have found in the last 24 hours within this debate, was that ‘people are off Tony’, ‘the Liberals are on the nose’ but so many still do not get what this party is about. They still do not ‘get’ the agenda of this Government.
Things I predict we can look forward to, if this gets through:
and most importantly
Before you think this is just about controlling drug use for people on welfare, or to stop people on welfare wasting tax payer dollars; please consider the above points as part of a whole agenda.
That is it from me, but feel free to add any more. I hope this clarifies that I am not ‘Pro-Drugs’ I am “Anti-Stigmatization” “Anti-Neo-Liberalism” and “Pro-Fairness” and “Pro-Support”.
The message that the Abbott Government is sending Australians and the world, is that Australian people in receipt of welfare are lazy, drug addled parasitic bludgers who have the only aim in life of ripping off the tax payer. The constant use of ‘welfare recipient’ and ‘unemployed’ rather than the use of the positive ‘job seeker’; the punitive measures such as cancelling of benefits as a prime punishment; forced labour not supported by workplace health and safety protections, nor minimum wage all serve to create a negative stereotype of welfare recipients. Now we have mandatory drug testing being flagged for people in receipt of unemployment benefits.
Mandatory drug testing was flagged whilst LNP were in opposition, particularly pushed by the born to rule, privileged class of the Young Liberals. The group who have the highest likelihood of being able to be supported by their parents as unemployed adults; being afforded the privilege of gaining employment with their parents or their parents friends and being afforded the privilege access to many other social benefits, such as never going hungry and never being homeless.
The underlying argument for drug testing of welfare recipients, is that people on welfare are drug takers and associate with drug addled groups of friends and they should not use tax payers money to do so. The fact is, people across all levels of society can take drugs, so if the Government was so concerned about the use of tax payers money to purchase illegal substances then the following groups should also be tested.
If the concern is about drugs and not about stigmatising welfare; then testing of these groups can be supported by studies in the United States indicate that rates of drug and alcohol problems in welfare recipients were no greater than the general population, or non-recipients of welfare.
Some of the answers against testing all of these groups, would be the cost to the tax payer. However, so does the drug testing of welfare recipients. In fact, studies show that of States in the USA who have drug tested welfare recipients, only a very small percentage showed positive, as compared to the general population. This will be a counter productive exercise which will in fact cost the tax payer a lot more than any recouping of welfare dollars.
The only real answer against testing the above groups, is that they do not make the list of groups that the Abbott Government has an agenda to stigmatize.
One of the biggest concerns cited within the literature surrounding random workplace drug testing, is that of a false positive. A false positive is where the drug test shows a positive result, but the recipient of the test is not an active user of illicit drugs. The other concern within the literature is unfair dismissal, where it is too difficult to determine the length of time a drug has been in a person’s system and there is no measure of impairment and the result would not impact on the safety of the tasks performed.
Another concern, is that there is no way of detecting how it was administered. This includes being in the same vicinity of someone engaged in the smoking of cannabis (passive inhalation) or the biggest concern, pharmaceutical and prescribed medications and the ingestion of some foods.
To put this list quite simply – the following common substances can return a false positive:
This is quite a complex area and I have tried to be as brief as possible to hold the readers attention.
I would urge everyone who is concerned with this, to push this to the wider media and also to politicians to seek answers on this new “Government Initiative of Stigmatising the Poor.”