Youth exploited in green army

Issue 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Yet one of the defining features of latter-day capitalism is the extraordinary levels of youth unemployment. Across the eurozone, youth unemployment is about 25%. In Spain it is almost 58%.

Australia has not reached these levels yet, but youth unemployment has been growing disproportionately since the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008. The official rate is now 12.4%, more than double the rate for the workforce as a whole.

In west and north-west Tasmania it is 21%, the rate in Cairns is above 20% and on the other side of the country in Mandurah, just south of Perth, it is 17.3%. In Northern Adelaide youth unemployment is 19.7% and teenage unemployment is 45%.

Part of the solution to youth unemployment is comprehensive programs that help students transition from school into the workforce. The one program of this type that exists, Youth Connections, is underfunded and expires this year.

What is set to replace it is a coercive scheme dressed up as “an environmental and training program” that will do as little for the environment as it will for participants' employment prospects. Modelled on the John Howard government’s Green Corps, it is now upgraded in military terms to a Green Army.

Under its provisions, 17-to-24-year-olds will work for up to 30 hours a week clearing local creeks and tree planting and be paid about half the minimum wage. Those targeted for the scheme include Indigenous youth, those with disabilities, and gap-year students.

They will be exempt from federal workplace laws, including the Work, Health and Safety Act, the Fair Work Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

As Greens MP Adam Bandt said: “Only Tony Abbott could create a ‘workforce’ where workers aren’t legally workers and have no workplace rights.”