By Peter Boyle
With more than one in 10 people out of a job, unemployment in Australia has reached record levels, and Bob Hawke's March 12 economic statement promised do away with even more jobs.
The official unemployment rate, as calculated by Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys, was 738,300 (8.7% of the workforce) in February. This is the largest number of people out of work in Australian history.
But this does not reflect the full scope of unemployment. First, the figure is seasonally adjusted: the raw statistics for February show 812,000 out of work. Second, the ABS survey is conducted on the assumption that a person who works for pay for as little as one hour per week is employed. It also does not include many women or young people who have been forced to become dependents because of the job shortage.
According to the Australian Council for Social Services, more than 1 million other people could be considered to be unemployed but do not come into the official figures. This would make the real figure for February over 1.5 million or 16.4% of the workforce.
According to Reserve Bank statistics, official and hidden unemployment combined peaked at 1,096,500 in 1983. But comparisons with the last recession should go beyond simply the number of people unemployed.
In the last recession, fewer workers were forced to work short weeks or to take compulsory leave without pay. The Accord has made a big difference: workers now are much more at the mercy of employers. Award conditions have been bartered away on an unprecedented scale.
The statistics for workers on reduced hours and pay have not been put together, but the anecdotal evidence is mounting. A report in the March 10 Sunday Telegraph claimed that 300 companies in the clothing, furniture, housing, vehicle building and metal industries have their workers on short working weeks or are negotiating with unions to introduce it.
The Independent Teachers Association agreed last week to allow 12 of its members to work for four weeks without pay for the Woods English Language College so that they could keep their jobs.
The latest ABS figures also include a drop of 92,200 in full-time employment and an increase of 61,600 in part-time employment.
The statistics show that Arab and Asian migrant communities are hardest hit. Lebanese-born workers had a 30.4% unemployment rate, Cambodian-born 28%, Laotian-born 25% and Vietnamese-born 10%.
More job cuts are on the way. BHP has closed another coal mine ng 300 out of work. Qantas has announced that it may shed a further 3000 workers. The Industry Commission predicts up to 22,800 jobs could go in the vehicle building industry as a result of tariff cuts announced on March 12. Jobs are also expected to be lost in the textile and clothing industry.
ACTU president Martin Ferguson and treasurer Paul Keating admitted that more workers would be made jobless, but both insisted that workers must continue to sacrifice for the sake of economic restructuring.