Real solutions needed for rising unemployment

August 13, 2015
Woolworths distribution centre workers on strike on August 13. Photo: Chris Peterson

The official unemployment rate in Broadmeadows is 23.5% but the real unemployment and underemployment rates are far higher. Youth unemployment is higher than the overall rate. We are very close to the 30% unemployment rate of the Great Depression.

Woolworths has now announced that it intends to close its Hume Distribution Centre and shift it across town to the outer south-eastern suburbs. This would throw about 680 people out of work.

This is in the context of Broadmeadows already suffering the loss of jobs from the closure of Pacific Brands, Autoliv and Pacific Tyres, and waves of retrenchments at Ford Broadmeadows. The Ford factory is due to totally close down next year, throwing thousands more into the unemployment queues.

We need to fight to stop Woolworths closing down this warehouse and sacking all these workers. These are permanent jobs with good pay and conditions — the result of the campaigns of the unionised workforce over the years.

If the warehouse closes, all the company or the government will offer the workers is retraining in “Mickey Mouse” training schemes — most likely at private training colleges — with no guarantee of any jobs at the end of the process.

There have been reports recently that indicate some of the typical courses that retrenched workers have been shoved into, such as aged care and disability care, are creating an oversupply of workers. When people graduate from these courses, typically they get casual jobs with just a couple of shifts a week.

These retraining courses are not a solution to unemployment and underemployment. They just cover up the problem and alter the statistics.

It clearly does not work to give subsidies to private businesses to create jobs. Woolworths received generous tax incentives for “providing jobs” but this did not prevent it from sacking the workers. Likewise, companies such as Pacific Brands and Ford are happy to pocket government money, but when they decide they can make higher profits by shedding jobs, they just do so.

We need to fight to save these jobs, and also force the government to create real jobs.

The government has to actually provide alternative jobs when companies pull out of an area.

There is no shortage of real social needs in Broadmeadows and real jobs could be created to address the shortage of affordable housing, healthcare, education and other social services. Then there is the urgent task of addressing the climate change emergency. Thousands of useful jobs could be created addressing this challenge alone.

Another way of creating jobs is to shorten the working week (without loss of pay) to spread available work around. At present some workers are overworked and forced to do unpaid as well as paid overtime, while other workers are forced to try to survive with casual and part-time work. This is irrational and unfair.

Society could address unemployment if it seriously taxed the rich, stopped privatisation and rebuilt a modern, democratically managed public sector.

[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland City Council. She spoke at the recent NUW jobs forum at Broadmeadows: see an article about the forum. Visit Sue's Facebook page.]

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