An internal government probe into the death of a Queensland teenager on a work for the dole site found his employment services provider had a history of failing to investigate serious incidents.
Josh Park-Fing died from critical head injuries after falling from a flatbed trailer that was being towed by a tractor in April 2016.
He had been sent to collect rubbish by his employment services provider, Neato, and was earning $218.75 per week on the compulsory government program.
The taskforce report – which the federal government had blocked from release until now, citing criminal legal proceedings – was quietly tabled in parliament last week, four years after the 18-year-old fell from a trailer at the Toowoomba showgrounds.
It found that although Neato “generally” met requirements, there were key gaps and its work for the dole risk assessment lacked “comprehensiveness and rigour”.
Assessors Ernst and Young found “several instances” where staff failed to investigate incidents and some were not reported to the department of employment.
Seven months before Park-Fing’s death, Neato management warned work for the dole staff it may need to cancel some of its activities because participants should not “travel in the tray of a ute” under any circumstances.
The department had asked for formal advice about the incident the same month, but Neato never replied, the report said.
Neato later claimed it had conducted a number of site visits to investigate, yet it was “unable to provide the Taskforce with evidence supporting these visits”.
The review also conceded the department did not “consistently follow-up provider compliance with reporting requirements”.
Jeremy Poxon, an Australian Unemployed Workers Union spokesperson, said on Tuesday the report showed safety processes on work for the dole sites were “dangerously flawed”.
“The taskforce found that risk assessments are being performed inexpertly or sometimes not at all,” he said.
Following Park-Fing’s death, the AUWU formed a campaign – Justice For Josh – which sought to pressure the government to release its internal review and other documents related to the incident.
In early 2017, the union was blocked from accessing Neato’s risk assessment documents under FOI laws because it contained information that could “harm” Neato.
Park-Fing’s parents had spent years calling for the report to be published and his father, Iain, reportedly filed a $750,000 damages lawsuit in September.
Its release comes ahead of the return of mutual obligations for jobseekers, which will be progressively rolled out from 9 June.
The report also found Neato had “inappropriate supervision arrangements” at two work for the dole sites.
Buzzfeed reported in 2018 that a Queensland court heard there had been no certified supervisor on site the day Park-Fing died, although one arrived later.
A spokesman for the employment minister, Michaelia Cash, said the government had taken several steps to strengthen safety on work for the dole sites.
That included a program of safety audits, clarifying risk assessments requirements and information workshops for providers.
“The department’s incident reporting and response arrangements were reviewed and strengthened – with the enhanced work for the dole arrangements subsequently extended to all labour market programs,” he said.
Cash’s spokesperson said the department had also taken action against Neato, including reducing its contracts, requiring a review of work health and safety arrangements.
Neato was also removed from the work for the dole program, although it is still a Jobactive provider.
The government had always said it needed to wait until the “conclusion of the criminal proceedings to avoid any prejudice to those proceedings”, the spokesperson said.
In 2018, Neato was fined $90,000 by the Toowoomba Magistrates Court in 2018 for failing to comply with a health and safety duty.
The Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland, a non-profit which ran the work-for-the-dole activity, was also fined $100,000 last year with no conviction recorded.
Neato was approached for comment.
Poxon said the union still had “huge safety concerns” about the work for the dole program, which will likely resume in coming weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.
He also criticised the report, saying although the provider was rightly held to account, they should not be “completely scapegoated for what amount to deeper, systemic safety issues”.
“The report shows that the department requested formal advice from Neato in September, five long months after Josh’s death,” he said.
“Ultimately, we feel that this report lets the department off the hook for Josh’s death.”