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where have all the real jobs gone? « Previous | |Next »
September 4, 2003

When in Whyalla I came across an old issue of the Australian Financial Review in a cafe with the decor of the 1950s. It was one dated Thursday 28th August. As I had a few moments to myself I glanced through it and came across an article by John Quiggin on long-term unemployment (subscription rquired, p. 62). Since Whyalla is the capital for long-term unemployment in Australia, I read the article with interest.

John mentions the ongoing restructuring of Jobs Network---it has been going on since 1998----and the notable lack of success it has had in actually placing unemployed workers in long-term sustainable jobs. So what happens as is so evident in Whyalla is that unemployed workers withdraw from the workforce and take an early forced retirement.

John comments that neo-liberalism's wage flexibility and labor market deregulation has resulted in full time employers being replaced by causals or contractors. With fewer full time jobs being created the proportion of unemployed who become long-term unemployed is inevitably high. Those jobs that are have been created are often insecure, associated with very low pay or with insufficient hours to generate an income that can sustain basic living standards.
John then observes:

"Almost every aspect of Australian labour market policy destroys human capital rather than build it. Damage is being done at both ends of the age range and, for that matter, in the middle as well....Without a serious commitment to active labour market policies, the natural outcome of long-term unemployment is withdrawal from the labour force."

That is so evident in Whyalla. There is not the acceptance of the long-term unemployed as there is in the rest of the country. Whyalla bleds. It is a classic example of there not being enough jobs to meet the aspirations of those who want work. It exposes the Howard Government's pretense that there are jobs for everyone and that the real problem is a matter of attitudinal modification on behalf of the unemployed.

John then addsa comment about national policy:

'Rather than make a serious effort to reduce long-term unemployment, we have the cheap populism of "work for the dole" and the ideological cost cutting of Jobs Network.'

That means the unemployed in Whyalla are left to rot. John then makes a point about national policy:

"A 6 per cent unemployment rate and declining full-time unemployment rates are pretty miserable outcomes for a country that has experienced both favourable demographics and one of the highest sustained economic expansions in its history."

That history is written in Whyalla. Sydeny booms. Whyalla dies.

It was time to move on. I paid the bill and left the cafe. There was little spring in my step even though the sun was shining.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:56 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

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I can't compete with Quiggers in the 'understanding of the factors that affect unemployment" stakes but I am nonetheless disturbed when anybody instantly dismisses ANY form of labour flexibility as a means toward tackling unemployemnt.

I should confess that, as an extreme optimist, I can't understand why people get upset about 6% unemployment. It means that 94% of people are employed, and, I'm sur you will concede that a certain proportion of the population will always be unemployed (dare I say because there will always be some who don't want to work) so the overwhelming majority of people who want to work do so.

Secondly, I can't accept that priviledges of the past, for instance, leave loading, should be such a sacred cow. How do public servants, especially teachers, justify leave loading that was introduced to allow for blue collar workers who were used to getting overtime. If there was more give and take between the negotiators, (and I know I'm biased here) especially the unions, disasters like Ansett may not happen. And Whyalla may not be the ghost town it's become. BTW, didn't the Adelaide-Darwin railway have some affect on the economy of Whyalla ? If so, what will they do when it's finished ?

I'm not dismissing any form of labor market deregulation and flexibility.It provides opportunities for people--including myself---who want to work odd hours, causal, or on a part-time.

Looking at the figures nationally---94% employment only 6% unemployment--- obscures what is happening in regional centres such as Whyalla where there is very high unemployment---they are talking in terms of 30% for some age groups.

Whyalla is not in a mess because of the high salaries and benefits traditionally paid to bureaucrats.The old dirty industries that caused so much illhealth in the city from pollution have had their day----they need new to develop new clean ones.

The big issue as Quiggin points out is one about active labour market policies ie., regional development that goes way beyond the spin offs from the new Adelaide Darwin railway.

That is nineteenth century technology and industry. What is needed in Whyalla is new industries based on 21st century technology----industries clustered around renewable energy. It is an industrial town.