By William Olson
The Morrison government released its latest unemployment statistics on Thursday, and the immediate interpretation from the numbers possesses a deadly truth: it’s unprecedented, bound to get higher, and the recession occurring in the midst of a pandemic isn’t going to end anytime soon without a jobs plan to combat it.
Via data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the rate of unemployment in Australia has risen to 7.5 per cent, equating to 1,009,400 people out of work – rising over the 1,000,000 mark for the first time in the nation’s history – and the underutilisation rate which defines a combination of those who are unemployed in addition to those who aren’t working a minimum of 20 hours per week has risen to a whopping 18.7 per cent.
For perspective, nearly one in every five people who are able to work are not working enough hours to qualify for the title of part-time workers.
Another bit of perspective: Back in January, when the words “pandemic”, “coronavirus” and “COVID” were not a part of the daily lexicon, and the word “recession” was an absolute afterthought, the unemployment rate stood at 5.2 per cent, and was considered as “steady”.
Therefore, in the last seven months, the key economic indicator of the nation’s economy that the public generally identifies with has gone from “steady” and mildly acceptable, to “record-breaking” and unprecedented – and in no way of making a U-turn anytime soon.
In order to inspire that recovery, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) maintains that a plan to create more jobs remains as a key foundation point to engineer some sort of a National Economic Reconstruction Plan (NERP), as the organisation has put in its own blueprint before.
And if the Morrison government fails to do this quickly, the ACTU fears that concerns will increase for the country’s working classes, that the economy and unemployment figures will continue to veer out of control like a heavy vehicle on an old country road.
“These figures show that Australia is on track – as predicted by the government’s own department – to reach 10 percent by the end of the year,” warns Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.
O’Neil also points out that the government’s statistics on unemployment and underemployment would be worse if not for the 3.5 million workers currently receiving payments under the JobKeeper subsidy scheme.
“Even with a national wage subsidy scheme which unions fought for, more than a million people are now looking for work,” O’Neil said.
“Even with a national wage subsidy scheme which unions fought for, more than a million people are now looking for work.
“The million Australians now out of a job, and the millions more who are either reliant on JobKeeper or worried about their future, need leadership from this Government. They need a plan for jobs,” O’Neil added.
O’Neil also said that any jobs-creation plan would have to result in a particular “if-then” scenario: if the government can put masses of people to work, then they can have the foundation blocks to rebuild an economy upon, and where the newly-employed can spend their money.
“We need to make sure that the recovery creates secure jobs which will kick-start the economy by putting money in the hands of working people and giving them the confidence to spend it,” she said.
To review the ACTU’s economic recovery blueprint from nearly four weeks ago, it focuses on areas in training, infrastructure, sustainability, hospitality and tourism, and childcare.
And the ACTU has even said to the Morrison government, in no uncertain terms, “feel free to adopt our plan” – an insistence that the organisation was offering, on general principle, even at the start of June – and adapt the blueprint’s fundamentals and build upon it to aid in its economic recovery aims.
“People need reassurance that Australia isn’t going over an economic cliff so the sooner the Government tells people the plan the better for everyone,” O’Neil said at the time.
And at that time, unemployment stood at a similar rate of 7.4 per cent, so these appeals are nothing new, adds O’Neil.
“We have 13 times more unemployed people than jobs available, and record rates of young people either out of work or needing more hours,” she said.
“People need a real pathway that builds on skill development into real work so expanding the program to include new apprentices and making sure there are government projects with mandated minimum numbers of trainees and apprentices is what we need to see now,” added O’Neil, using a reinvestment into the country’s TAFE system as a focal point to put people back to work.
Overall, O’Neil has implored for those in the Morrison government to consult with the ACTU, in the name of camaraderie and bipartisanship towards a common goal, over any plans which it has proposed in the past.
“The ACTU has put forward a detailed plan, what’s needed now is for the Government to act to create jobs and to ensure that working people have better rights and more secure work as we recover from this crisis,” said O’Neil.
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