By Harry Van Moorst
MELBOURNE — Unemployment groups have begun organising for a major Unemployment Summit conference, to be held here in April.
The Coalition Against Poverty and Unemployment and the Victorian Unemployed Workers Union have held several meetings to plan the "Summit" and a subsequent unemployment rally on April 20.
The rapid growth of unemployment, to levels matching those that helped cause the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, is creating massive hardship in many working-class areas around Australia.
While much of the blame for unemployment lies with the capitalist system itself, governments can either soften the blow or exacerbate the situation. The Labor government has worsened the situation for workers by a substantially greater degree than its Liberal predecessor.
Keating's economic policies have resulted in a massive reduction in public sector spending and hence employment opportunities. Simultaneously they have increased interest rates to a point that left many small businesses with little choice but to sack workers.
Keating could have implemented alternative policies that would have eased the burden on the workers and low income earners, but this would have placed a greater burden on the wealthier sections of the community (or would have necessitated significantly reduced defence expenditure), something not acceptable to the new breed of Labor politicians in Canberra.
In July, the government intends to abolish the dole for anyone who has been unemployed for more than 12 months. As this is a rapidly growing section of the community, this policy will seriously affect many families and individuals.
Instead of receiving the dole, the unemployed will obtain a benefit only if she or he enters into a "contract" with the CES to engage in some kind of training, job search program or other scheme.
This is known as the Active Employment Scheme. The AES was an election policy cobbled together in response to the Liberal Party's threat to do a similar thing (but to those unemployed for nine months instead of the ALP's 12).
Government bureaucrats, especially senior CES staff, have been scratching around for ways to make it work. CES staff are increasingly concerned that the whole scheme will be unworkable unless there is substantially greater clarity in the procedures and a greater allocation of staff. Many staff have also expressed concern about the repressive nature of the proposals. The AES will be a major theme of the Unemployment Summit in Melbourne on April 14.