Well, here we are at the halfway mark. It’s been about eight weeks since Alcoa announced it was shutting up shop in Geelong and there’s a little over eight weeks before workers are tossed out the gate for good.
But where are the announcements from the state and federal governments or Alcoa about how they will address the economic black hole and job losses in Geelong?
Alcoa workers and their unions finally met with Sarah Henderson last week, only to leave her office empty-handed. Even when Prime Minister Tony Abbott passed through Geelong the next day, the elephant in the room was ignored again. No plan or funding to create new manufacturing jobs for Alcoa workers was mentioned — it is as if the problem doesn’t even exist.
So now we face a situation where the next round of redundant Ford workers, all the Alcoa workers and, not long after that, school leavers will all be in the hunt for those fast-disappearing manufacturing jobs. It’s not easy to feel optimistic about the future for workers in Geelong at the moment.
Governments are putting out plenty of platitudes but few solutions.
Here’s one of the problems: When the Ford closure was announced, a fund — the Geelong Regional Innovation and Investment Fund (GRIIF) — was set up and $24.3 million was invested, primarily aimed at creating new jobs to replace the economic loss of Ford.
So far, 257 jobs before June 2016 are projected from the first round and a second round of grant applications is currently open. But still nothing — absolutely nothing — has been set up for Alcoa workers.
The clock is ticking and the scoreboard reads 2000 workers losing their jobs this year versus 257 jobs created by the Ford GRIIF so far.
The other element to this is that not all the jobs created are of equal value to the jobs being lost from Ford and Alcoa. The take-home pay is less, which is not good for workers or small businesses and service providers.
Then there’s the issue of youth unemployment.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics data examined by the Brotherhood of St Laurence confirms that youth unemployment to be not only at crisis levels in many parts of Victoria but is growing at an alarming rate. Over the past two years, youth unemployment in Geelong has risen by almost a third, to 14.7% in the year to February.
At these rates of increase, the forecast predicts youth unemployment at 19.1% in Geelong by 2016.
There are several thousand kids leaving school this year with few prospects for many of them in our region. Not all will be applying for jobs in manufacturing, but about 30% don’t go on to year 12 and only about 50% of high school graduates continue to university level.
So you be the judge. A jobs fair is being organised at the Deakin University waterfront campus next month. I hope the organisers have a few surprises tucked up their sleeves because without a dedicated fund to create manufacturing jobs in the wake of the Alcoa closure, manufacturing jobs will be very light on at the fair.
The clock is still ticking.
[Tim Gooden is Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary and a member of the Socialist Alliance. This article was first published in the Geelong Advertiser.]