Rosy figures on the nose for jobless
by Anna Pha Unemployment is at its lowest level for 10 years, the labour market is sound and all the credit goes to Treasurer Peter Costello and Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith — if you believe what you read in the capitalist media. But if you take a look beyond the official figures, the labour market and the plight of working class Australians does not look so rosy. This is confirmed in a report released on July 12 by the conservative Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in association with the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT). Ian Watson from ACIRRT looked at four important employment indicators: full-time employment; under-employment; hours of work; and earnings inequalities. "A single figure, like the unemployment rate, is a misleading indicator of the overall health of the labour market because it fails to tell us if the jobs created are full-time, part-time or casual, or how many discouraged job seekers have left the labour force, or whether people employed on a part-time basis would prefer to be working full-time", said Mr Watson. He found that in the ten years to November 1999 the creation of full-time jobs had been stagnant, and that the reduction in the official rate of unemployment was mainly due to the considerable growth in part-time employment. In the same period the percentage of part-time workers wanting more work rose from 21 per cent to 30 per cent. The percentage of full-time workers working more than 49 hours per week rose from 27 to 34. Mr Watson also looked at the distribution of earnings within industries by comparing the (adult average weekly ordinary time) earnings of the top and bottom 10 percent between 1996 and 1998. He found a marked increase in inequality over that period. Government policies have played a major part in these trends. Enterprise bargaining, award stripping and individual contracts have all contributed to decentralisation and greater flexibility (for employers), and paved the way for employers to casualise workforces and introduce part-time and contract labour. Reith has reason to boast to his employer friends — he has done a lot for them. Government ducks its obligations When it comes to job creation the Government has failed dismally. That is not to deny that there have been some pockets of growth in employment. In Sydney there has been the pre-Olympic growth with new cafes, restaurants and hotels as well as a boom in the building and construction industry. The Government can take some (dubious) credit for job-creation with its GST — 4,000 new jobs alone in the Taxation Office, plus all the additional accountants, consultants and extra staff taken on by business, community organisations and government agencies. But government policies of deregulation, privatisation and removal of tariffs have contributed to the loss of many full-time jobs. Overall, as confirmed by ACIRRT, there has been a deterioration in the general situation, despite a long economic "boom" period. Crackdown on unemployed The Government has announced yet another crackdown on the unemployed, with the time allowed before the unemployed can be forced onto work-for-dole schemes slashed from 12 to three months in a trial program in Sydney. This is further evidence — if any were needed — of its total lack of job- creation policies. Minister for Employment Services Tony Abbott calls it an "Olympic employment initiative to encourage job seekers to find work in Sydney". This project will offer cheap, conscripted labour to employers in the lead- up to and during the Olympics. As of August 1, unemployed, under 35-year-olds in Sydney who have been on unemployment benefits for more than two months and are not already on a recognised program will be referred to Job Search Training, to give them job hunting skills. Those who do not undertake the training will be forced onto the work-for- the-dole schemes after three (or more) months' unemployment. Those who refuse to participate in work-for-the-dole projects will have their benefits cut off. The Government will also be making available "special help" for long-term unemployed people in Sydney with additional places with "Intensive Assistance" providers. Centrelink will be writing to all recipients of unemployment benefits in Sydney to remind them of their "obligation to take work where it is available".