Young people reject 'youth slavery' plans


By Peter Boyle

Official unemployment for June reached a postwar record high of 11.1% nationally, up from 10.6% the previous month. In South Australia the jobless rate was 12.5%, in Victoria 11.9% and in Tasmania 11.8%. Unemployment among 15-19-year-olds was 35.8% nationally. There was a rise of 28,300 in the absolute number of jobs but a fall of 6800 in the number of full-time jobs, reflecting the growing number of workers forced to work part-time. According to K.Mart public affairs manager John Jukes, more than a third of its 5000 employees in Victoria work only four to six hours a week, and most of them want more work.

The Liberal Party flew Rebecca Gilmore and Simon Schloss, two unemployed youth from Melbourne, to its US-style convention in Sydney in the first week of July. They were wined and dined and paraded as the "human face of youth unemployment". Then Liberal leader John Hewson announced his "solution": slash youth wages to $3 per hour.

Employer organisations and the big business press welcomed the proposal as "dramatic" and "audacious". But back in Melbourne the next week, Gilmore and Schloss rejected Hewson's plan. "We are not slaves who have no value", they told the Melbourne Age.

The Liberal proposals have been condemned by youth activists, the ACTU and welfare organisations. According to Joseph O'Reilly, the national vice-president (youth portfolio) of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, youth representatives at a forum held on July 9 (part of the consultation process leading up to Labor's youth jobs summit) overwhelmingly rejected the plan for low youth wages. O'Reilly described Hewson's proposal as "appalling".

Jorge Jorquera, assistant national coordinator of the national youth organisation Resistance, condemned both the Liberals' youth wage and the Labor Party's youth "training wage".

"Neither does anything to address the real problems and causes of youth unemployment", he told Green Left Weekly. "The Liberal Party's youth wage scheme means that young workers will be earning as little as $3 per hour. It means that youth wages may be halved.

"The policy is taking young people back 100 years, conjuring up images of young people working in coal mines for 14 hours per day".

O'Reilly told Green Left that slashing youth wages would put more pressure on a sector of society that was already suffering badly under the recession. St Vincent de Paul had received 70% more requests for emergency assistance since the recession began, and many of these were from young people. Youth accommodation and support services for young people were also straining to cope with the problem. The Society had been denied representation at Keating's Youth Job Summit because the government did not want to hear these facts, he said.

"Labor's youth 'slave' wage does not fare much better. Young people will be paid $117 per week for working and for doing some training", said Jorquera. "Keating's upcoming youth jobs summit is neither about young people nor about jobs.

"Only one youth organisation has been invited to attend this private meeting. Most people who are attending come from big businesses, like BHP and Coles. Real job creation is not even on the agenda. Resistance plans to organise a demonstration outside this 'joke' summit.

"Both major political parties represent the politics of no choice for young people. Young people want real jobs for real wages", he said.

Any youth training scheme, said O'Reilly, should include a guarantee of adequate income, real training and an assurance of a job at the end of the process.

The public discussion on unemployment was being "subverted by the economic rationalist agenda", he added. The Carmichael Report (which proposed youth training wages) was heavily influenced by the demands of big business and ignored the real issues confronting society. "Full unemployment will not be possible unless we redefine work away from the 38-40 hour week, and guarantee a minimum livable income to everybody regardless of whether they can be found a job or not."

The needs of disadvantaged groups like non-English-speaking migrants and Kooris were being ignored in the discussion, he said.

Hewson's suggestion that jobs will be found if wages were lowered enough, was false, he said. And even if it worked, it would presume rates of economic growth that were ecologically and socially unsustainable.

Elle Morrell, national coordinator of the Environmental Youth Alliance, told Green Left Weekly that Hewson had decided that jobs could be created only at the expense of wage levels and the environment. "He has said that a Liberal government would prioritise development of major resource projects over environmental or Aboriginal land rights considerations."

She said that the major parties ignored the fact that jobs could be created by seriously and energetically taking up the challenge to build a more ecologically sustainable society.