Labor vs Liberal: 29 cents worth of difference


By Peter Boyle

MELBOURNE — What's the difference between the Labor and Liberal youth wages packages? About 29 cents, according to Wendy Robertson, 17 years old and out of work.

She's looked closely at the figures. "If you're under 18, you'd get $3 an hour under the Hewson youth wage plan, and $3.29 under Keating's youth training wage. That's $125 a week compared with Hewson's $114."

"The Keating package might pay for a weekly train pass or lunch for a couple of days, but it won't help with the big expenses, like paying the rent or buying clothes to work in. Is it too much to expect a living income if you're young? I guess the politicians think we should all move back home and live off our parents."

Robertson contrasts this youth poverty with what is being done for employers, who "will be happy enough with thousands of dollars worth of subsidies. Some of them might even be able to sack a fully paid worker as a result.

"Keating adds 'training' to his youth wage plan, but the point is, whether we are working or studying full time, we still need a livable income, not one $69 below the poverty line. Even 18-20 year olds will get only $150 a week, still $44 below the poverty line for a single person."

Robertson, an activist in Resistance, is also dubious that training is the answer to unemployment. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are already more than 340,000 unemployed people with trade, industry or tertiary qualifications. The Carmichael Report points out that many young people looking for work are already in part-time or full-time training. "My generation looks like being all trained up with no jobs to go to", says Robertson.

"Even if we accept Keating's youth training wage idea, the $297 million he has promised to spend this financial year on jobs and youth training is not enough. He says he's creating 170,000 training places and there are only 120,000 young people looking for full-time work, but this is simply being dishonest with numbers. If employers take up all the subsidies he's offering them, there will be only 96,300 places created this year. There are 120,000 young jobless now, and the number is going up."

Contrary to suggestions by Victorian Premier Joan Kirner, most of these places don't offer "career opportunities" or long term prospects:

  • 35,700 places are only for a six-month vocational training course and then entitlement to Jobstart (which young unemployed would have received anyway).

  • 6000 are in short-term Landcare and ects.

  • 15,800 are in Jobtrain and Skillshare courses that have not proved very useful in helping people get jobs, and 12,000 are in extra TAFE places.

  • Only 1650 training places will be provided in the public sector, mostly in the Department of Social Security and CES offices.

  • 12,000 are in extra TAFE places, which will make only a small dent in the shortfall of places in tertiary education.

If Keating's discount youth training wage offer is taken up by employers, Resistance and other youth groups are concerned that unemployment would simply be redistributed away from youth to older workers. "Full-time jobs are already disappearing with the rapid rise in part-time and casual work", says Robertson. "It's very likely these very low youth wages will displace full-wage jobs.

"The employers will love this. They'll be able to use youth training wages to further bargain down award wages. The Business Council of Australia says openly that the central objective is to bring down award wages.".