Workforce 2010: ALP jobs policies way off beam
by Peter Mac In the novel Cry the Beloved Country, Allan Paton's classic study of apartheid South Africa, the author describes a working class orator who time and again rouses his audience over their grievances but always just fails to pinpoint the source of the problem and call for bold action. How like the latest ALP policy document, Workforce 2010! It contains some things that are praiseworthy, but it also exhibits the classic failings of ideological reformism. The document deals ostensibly with training and education for employment. And herein lies one of the principle weaknesses, for unemployment doesn't arise simply because of inadequate access to training and education, important as they may be for those seeking work. Workforce 2010 states at one point: "If we really want a society that can share the benefits of growth and give opportunities to everyone, there is only one choice". Does this mean we have to rein in big business; create properly-paid jobs programs; eventually abolish capitalism altogether? Not according to Workforce 2010, which describes the appropriate action thus: "National governments must attend to the human capital of the nation — building workforce skills, investing in innovation and research. This is how we make the transition to a Knowledge Nation." As a promotional document in preparation for the next federal election, this means in short, let the ALP leadership do it right for you, because they can best manage capitalism. The next ten years Workforce 2010 is based on a study carried out by Monash University's Centre for Policy Studies, which attempted to predict employment trends over the next ten years. The study predicts rapid development in industries such as retail trade, health services, education, welfare, and property and business services. It sees a million new jobs being created, including many new types of employment because of the development of information technology. However, it also predicts that unless there are substantial changes in government policies, those without post-school qualifications will stand little chance of getting a job. It foreshadows, not unexpectedly, that there will be a continuing demand from employers for longer hours from those fortunate enough to gain or keep jobs, and an increase in the number of part-time workers. The Workforce 2010 answer In response, Workforce 2010 commits the ALP to modernise the economy, especially in the rapid-growth "knowledge-based" industries, to provide better access to education and training, to help predict which sorts of jobs are likely to be in demand, to support research, assist regional development, encourage job mobility and skilled immigration, and to promote better work environments. But where is the outrage at the study's revelation that if current trends continue, in ten years time more than 49 hours of work per week will be demanded of the worker in three out of ten jobs? Where is the fire in the belly, where the clarion call to resistance? What is needed is a proposal for a broad union campaign for a shorter working week, not the mute acceptance of extended hours being foisted on a substantial chunk of the workforce. Its response to the prediction of longer hours is to acknowledge the stress this will put on families, and to offer to provide childcare services and to reward those employers who provide "family-friendly workplaces" with tax breaks! The document reeks of the long-discredited "accord" mentality. It prefers to describe unions as "employee organisations", whose role is to work towards "work environments that foster cooperation and respect between employees, employers and employee organisations". The closest it comes to an approach with guts is to commit an ALP government to ensure that workers in insolvent firms get their entitlements, but even that is an something of an afterthought tinged with opportunism. Its other worthy recommendations are equivocal. It states that the GST should be eliminated from books and education. Why not eliminate the GST itself? After all, the ALP claimed to oppose its introduction from the first. The document commits the ALP to reduce unemployment by just two per cent. It acknowledges that "It is simply not good enough to abandon individuals and industries to the whims of the market", but it doesn't link this with the idea of economic planning and job creation. Buried in the document is a tiny pledge to support community based employment programs. However the major commitment put forward is to help job seekers gain a competitive advantage, not to take action to create more real jobs. The document is long on rhetoric, but short on substance. It is repetitive and riddled with euphemisms and ambiguous "buzzwords". Workforce 2010 repeats the expression "knowledge nation" like a mantra, at the same time hardly giving a mention to the need for qualified tradespeople. Won't we need carpenters, mechanics, electricians, etc, in ten years time? Or is it just that they won't matter any more in this brave new "knowledge world"? In assessing the document, Democrats Deputy Leader Natasha Stott Despoja correctly noted that recent ALP Governments did not give a sufficiently high priority to education and training, that the Coalition Government's cuts have caused damage to public education, and that this will require a massive injection of funds to rectify. She said that during the past five years the amount spent by Australian governments on education and training had fallen from 5.2 per cent to 4.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. In the face of employer greed, the only way unemployment and increased exploitation can be combatted is to take a clear class position on the side of workers' rights. This is precisely what Workforce 2010 does not do. Posing as an alternative to the Howard Government's job-crushing free market policies, it is in fact no alternative at all.