Following the announcements of the closure of Ford, Alcoa and Target’s head office, workers in the Geelong region have been dealt another blow. Barwon Health, now one of the largest employers in the Geelong region, announced on May 29 that its laundry service LinenCare would close by June 30, making 94 workers unemployed.
Owen Bennett is the founder of the Australian Unemployment Union. He recently spoke at a public forum in Adelaide hosted by Anti-Poverty Network SA on why attacks on employed and unemployed people are connected. Pas Forgione from Anti-Poverty Network SA spoke to him about how these attacks are related and the Australian Unemployment Union's latest campaign. * * * How are attacks on welfare recipients and attacks on workers connected?
This is how Tony Abbott explained the new work-for-the-dole measures in the latest federal budget to the Queensland Chamber of Commerce: “That person can do up to four weeks of work experience with your business, with a private sector business, without losing unemployment benefits so it gives you a chance to have a kind of try-before-you-buy look at unemployed people.”
The Anti-Poverty Network South Australia released this statement on May 11. *** This year marks the 21st anniversary of the last time Newstart Allowance was raised in real terms. Since the 1994 federal budget, when Newstart was raised by a mere $2.95, the level of the payment has stagnated, falling increasingly behind the rest of community, and creating widespread poverty for unemployed people.
When neoliberal economics was being established as a hegemonic position in Australia in the late 1980s, 1.2 million workers were employed in the manufacturing industry — 15% of the workforce. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) latest employment analysis shows that 25,000 jobs were lost in manufacturing last year, bringing the total employed down to 920,000 — 7.8% of the workforce. It is a trend that will only continue with the winding-down of the vehicle production industry and its related vehicle components sector.
The policy objective of most central banks, including the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), is full employment, even though it continues to be the failed promise of governments at every level. The federal government pledged to create one million jobs over five years when it was elected in 2013, a rate of more than 16,500 jobs a month. Yet in its first year of office less than 12,000 jobs were created each month as the official unemployment rate went up.
One of the most striking features of the first year of Tony Abbott’s government is the sustained attacks on Centrelink clients. These started with the federal budget and its proposed cuts to Newstart Allowance for those aged under 30, Family Tax Benefits for sole-parent and low-income families, and restricted access to Disability Support Pension. These were followed by employment minister Eric Abetz announcing the expansion of Work for the Dole to all jobseekers under 50.
The long-term average rise of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) wage price index is 3.6%. In the first half of this year, it increased at an annualised rate of only 1.7%. The latest National Australia Bank quarterly business survey shows labour costs have been rising at an average annualised rate of 1.5% since the last quarter of 2012. This compares with an average of 3% a year between 1998 and 2008.
Tony Abbott’s government has backed away from the ludicrous proposal to force unemployed people to apply for 40 jobs a month to receive the paltry Newstart allowance. The proposal would have generated 30 million job applications a month for the 147,000 jobs available to the 746,000 unemployed. But it was not an attack of common sense that led to the decision — it came after 7000 protesting “cover letters” were sent to Employment Minister Eric Abetz, together with complaints from small businesses that they would be inundated with applications for non-existing jobs.
The total number of jobs now advertised across Australia is about 133,000. This is the labour market for the 790,000 unemployed looking for work — and it will get a lot worse before it ever gets better. In the financial year to June, private sector wages rose by just 2.4%, the lowest growth rate in 17 years. With consumer prices rising at 3% over the same period, the decline in real wages will continue as unemployment rises.