By Steve Painter
The record jump in unemployment in April makes nonsense of the Hawke government's boast through the '80s that its Accord with the trade union movement was responsible for creating jobs. If the Accord were to be credited for the growth of employment during the boom of the mid-'80s, mustn't it also accept responsibility for the depth of the present slump, which Senator Peter Walsh admits is the worst since the Great Depression?
With official unemployment at 9.9% of the workforce and likely to jump to 12% in the near future, the present recession is already worse, and expected by Australia's biggest companies to last longer, than the 1982-83 slump which brought down the Fraser government. In the '70s, Fraser's Liberals managed to run a boom and subsequent slump without the Accord.
Unless supporters of the Accord want to accept credit for the extra depth of the present slump, it seems the Hawke government's policies have made very little difference, as little difference as did Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's policies in Britain. Throughout the '80s Thatcher also boasted of creating vast numbers of jobs, most of which have now evaporated just as completely as their Australian counterparts.
The recovery from 1982-83, the mid-'80s boom, and the present bust were all due to factors almost completely beyond the control of the Hawke government. They were all worldwide developments. The only contribution of the Accord was to donate a little extra to the gambling funds of the likes of Laurie Connell, Christopher Skase and John Spalvins.
Last month, the manufacturing and construction industries continued to decline as nearly 67,000 more workers lost their jobs, making 844,000 officially unemployed. About 115,000 of those are young people. Youth unemployment stands at 27%.
Unemployment is now officially over 10% in all states except NSW, and nationally it is just 0.1% below the 10% mark which Bob Hawke said last November would not be reached. It is above 11% in Western Australia. Of course, the real figure is above 10% already. In fact, it is almost certainly well above the 12% expected before the end of this year.
The overall unemployment figure would look considerably worse but for the fact that many sacked workers have taken part-time jobs.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand official unemployment has reached 15%. While Department of Statistics figures released on May 9 put the March figure at 9.7% of the workforce, the department admits that the figure would be 15% if it included those classed as not actively looking for work, a dubious and subjective classification at any time. n