- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #1949
The unemployed need jobs and a permanent increase in the present temporary $10 a day JobSeeker supplement. Other social security recipients need an increase in their income. The underemployed need more hours of work. Low and middle-income workers need a wage rise, job security, and affordable public housing.
Without such measures, there is no way out of the economic crisis for the working class.
Higher incomes are urgently needed to alleviate poverty, halt the decline of living standards, stimulate the economy, and increase demand resulting in job creation. At present businesses have surplus capacity to produce goods and supply services but there is lack of demand. Until that turns around, the private sector will not create jobs.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor, Philip Lowe, could hardly be described as a leftie, but over the past couple of years has repeatedly urged the government to increase wages. The most recent appeal from the RBA was this month.
No plan for jobs
How does the government respond to these people’s urgent needs and repeated pleas for the RBA Governor for higher incomes? It has a five-point “Economic Recovery Plan”:
A new insolvency framework for small businesses, easing restrictions on trading while insolvent
“Your Superannuation, Your Choice” reforms to remove clauses in enterprise agreements specifying a superannuation fund – yet another Coalition attempt to undermine union/industry (not-for-profit) funds
Extension of the HomeBuilder program to 31st March for those with $150,000 or more to spend on construction of a new home or renovation of an existing home instead of building public, affordable housing
The Jobs-Ready Graduates package which halved fees in certain courses such as teaching, nursing, and engineering while doubling fees in law, arts and other courses
Changes to foreign investment laws aimed at restricting Chinese investments in Australia.
Apart from a few construction jobs in the HomeBuilder program, these measures have absolutely nothing to do with creating jobs or benefiting workers. Quite the contrary. The government has NO recovery plan, NO job creation plan, NO plan to alleviate poverty, NO plan to increase incomes. Absolutely of no benefit to those on low incomes.
Government’s real plan
But the Morrison/Frydenberg Coalition government does have plans – to make workers and social security recipients pay for the recovery. It plans to:
Give employers more powers in the workplace to screw workers
Slash wages and working conditions – the industrial relations omnibus bill* is key to this
Eradicate Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, in particular union agreements
Further casualise the workforce
Cut taxes for the rich and big business
Fast forward towards a budget surplus, making workers and the most vulnerable pay
Cut pensions and other social security payments
Sack more public servants
End JobKeeper at the end of March
Keep JobSeeker at $50 or less a day
This is neoliberalism run rampant!
The Coalition’s social and taxation policies are punitive. They target the unemployed, sick, disabled, Indigenous, sole parents, and other vulnerable people. At the same time they offer generous handouts to the wealthy and powerful, and to the big end of town.
The government speaks of a private sector-led recovery. This will not result in a recovery for the people. It is commonly referred to as the “trickle down” effect, except there is no trickle down, only a flood upwards draining the pockets of the people.
This agenda will drive millions more families into poverty and homelessness, have a serious impact on mental health and increase the already high rate of suicides. There will be millions more people in precarious employment at the mercy of profit-gouging employers who know they can act with impunity. It will swell the numbers of “working poor.” Charities are already overburdened with desperate people unable to put food on the table or pay bills.
This plan must be stopped and reversed.
Economic crisis far from over
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) reports that the wealthiest ten per cent of households already own almost half (forty-six per cent) of all household wealth and the poorest sixty per cent have just sixteen per cent (17-12-2020) This massive and unacceptable gap will continue to rise if the government and employers are not stopped.
The government can talk up the economic recovery as much as it likes, but the reality is that the official number of unemployed stood at a whopping 912,000 in December in 2020. (Australian Bureau of Statistics) During the pandemic the number of people on JobSeeker doubled, reaching an incredible 1.5 million. The ranks of the unemployed are set to swell when JobKeeper ends, with much depending on the pandemic.
“The old rate of JobSeeker was frozen for almost three decades. It became a poverty trap, locking people out of work. Week after week, people were coming to us for food parcels and vouchers just to get by,” Anglicare Executive Director Kasy Chambers said.
“Our research shows that people were forced to skip meals because their payments were so low. Many were left with as little as $7 a day after paying their rent. Others were forced to couch-surf.
“When the Government lifted JobSeeker it righted that wrong. People out of work were finally given a path out of poverty. These cuts will take that hope away – and push people back into poverty and hardship.”
ACOSS recommends a permanent increase of $25 a day in JobSeeker more than double the present $10 a day COVID supplement. That would be an additional $350 a fortnight.
“This minimum increase would bring the Jobseeker payment to only just above the poverty line, and closer to the pension rate, as it used to be. It would [be] a much better spend than the high-end income tax cuts that the government is planning,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“We also need to fix rental assistance and restore adequacy to family payments and deliver billions of investment into social housing.”
There is still no indication from the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg or PM Scott Morrison as to whether the unemployed will even continue to receive the additional amount of $10 a day.
“This study shows that homelessness will grow by nine per cent because of the Covid-19 recession. On top of that, one in four Australian families will be pushed into housing stress.” (Double Return, a study from Everybody’s Home campaign.)
“Even before the downturn, Australia had a shortfall of 400,000 social and affordable rentals across the country. Now thousands more people are being pushed into poverty and homelessness.
“Social housing will offer relief for people who are on the brink of homelessness. It also boosts GDP, and it creates construction jobs for the regions that need them most.”
The Double Return study shows that investing in social housing would make a serious dent in homelessness, turbocharge the economy by $18.2 billion, and create 18,000 jobs.
Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot 2020 (Released in August 2020) showed people with disability, age pensioners, job seekers and minimum wage earners were in a far more precarious housing situation than they were in March.
“Considering recent reporting suggests that rents are declining for some, these figures are shocking and heartbreaking. They show that housing affordability has actually plummeted for many Australians, who are already taking pay cuts or lost work,” Kate Colvin, spokesperson for Everybody’s Home said.
“At a time when minimum wage earners like childcare workers, cleaners and hospitality staff are facing shift or job losses, a working couple on a minimum wage with two children has half the number of homes available to rent than before the pandemic.
“Less than half the number of properties are now affordable to people on a disability or aged pension – neither of whom received the Coronavirus Supplement.” (everybodyshome.com.au)
“As a nation we are still spending more money on new roads than new social housing. We can do better,” Ms Colvin said.
The government wastes more than $40 billion a year on war preparations, hands out billions in subsidies to the fossil fuel industries, and private hospitals and billions more through negative gearing, superannuation rorts by the rich, capital gains tax concessions and failing to address tax loopholes.
“There is no time to waste. Social housing projects will bring more jobs than renovations, and they can get off the ground more quickly than roads or rail. Most importantly, they offer badly needed help to the people who need it,” Chambers said.
“These projects are shovel-ready – and they’re shovel-worthy.”
The Communist Party of Australia supports a national, government-funded and -owned public housing program with affordable rents based on income. It calls for an immediate build-up in the stock of public housing which has suffered as a result of the deliberate run-down of public housing and reliance on the private sector.
FIGHT BACK URGENT!
The only barrier to the government’s and employers’ plans is the united force of a militant trade union movement and the community through its various organisations and individuals.
Only fourteen per cent of workers belong to a trade union. This in part is a result of the casualisation of work and the impact of decades of attacks on trade unions. Rebuilding the trade union movement in numbers, ideologically, and politically is an urgent task.
The development of strong trade union links with community and other progressive organisations and individuals is imperative for such a struggle to develop and win.
Workers will not pay for the recovery! Make big business pay!
* See Guardians #1946, #1947, and #1948 for details of the bill.