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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: Talking Up the Unequal Economic Recovery

By Denis Bright

The 2021-22 Budget will offer positive trendlines on the extent of economic recovery even after the removal of JobKeeper support on 28 March 2021. Only time will tell if the recovery is sustainable. Return to that traditional rhetoric about the horrors of debt and deficit will inevitably follow the re-election of the federal LNP for a fourth consecutive term.

The mainstream media has currently written off the likelihood of an early spring election in 2021. Scott Morrison’s media advisers will be scanning the polls for the emergence of any winnable scenarios before the early signs of economic recovery are more thoroughly tested.

Trends in employment data will of course be mobilized to assist in the re-election of a federal LNP Government that is not derailed by too many senate cross bench members. The numerous cross-bench senators from 2016 will be up for re-election in the next half-senate election. That election in 2016 secured a loss of three senators to the LNP and a temporary rise in support for One Nation (+4) and the Xenophon team (+2).

Employment data from March 2021 can be used to offer the halo possible economic recovery.

The current shallowness of this better employment data from March 2021 can be qualified by a more detailed analysis.

Feb-21 Mar-21 Monthly change Monthly change (%) Yearly change Yearly change (%)
Seasonally adjusted
Employed people 13,006,900 13,077,600 70,700 0.5% 74,300 0.6%
Unemployed people 805,200 778,100 -27,100 -3.4% 62,100 8.7%
Unemployment rate 5.8% 5.6% -0.2 pts na 0.4 pts na
Underemployment rate 8.5% 7.9% -0.6 pts na -0.9 pts na
Participation rate 66.1% 66.3% 0.2 pts na 0.4 pts na
Monthly hours worked in all jobs 1,762 million 1,800 million 38 million 2.2% 22 million 1.2%

Graph from abs.gov.au

 

A Closer Look at the Employment Trendlines

The global unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent nationally always grossly underestimates the real extent of the unemployment problems. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines a person who is unemployed as one who, during a specified reference period, is not employed for one hour or more, is actively seeking work, and is currently available for work. It excludes people on training programmes authorized by employment agencies and periods of temporary illness faced by job-seekers like other members of the wider community.

Despite the upbeat interpretation of the March unemployment data by Minister Stuart Robert, full-time employment fell by 20,800 during March 2021. The increase in employment was due to the increase in part-time jobs to a record high of 4.2 million Australians. This represents 13.5 per cent of all employment and of course includes both preferred and involuntary part-time employment. Involuntary underemployment is increased in Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory and was stationary in SA which has the worst unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent plus an underemployment rate of 8.6 per cent.

Our leaders should be quizzed more critically through the mainstream media on the extent of involuntary part-time employment.

Employer organizations have funded this 24/7 site to assist businesses to navigate the quite weak controls of the Fair Work Commission over workers’ rights in neoliberal workplaces:

 

 

More details were requested about Employsure but without success. Its office location is Level 1 at 180 Ann Street in Brisbane’s CBD. I will check out next week and offer a comment as a postscript to this article.

A range of corporate businesses and the Federal Department of Home Affairs are also there to check out the details of prospective recruits for vacant positions. Firms like the Barrington Group with its overseas corporate links are always prepared to assist Australian employers:

Background checking is essentially a security screen for job candidates, especially for applicants seeking a position that requires high security or a position of trust. These employees will often go on to be trusted with sensitive company information and company assets, including financial assets. Failing to check their background thoroughly could result in major issues down the road – both in terms of financial and reputational damage.

Conducting personnel checking in an Australian business also relays the message that your organisation values honesty and integrity – laying the expectation for these values to present themselves at every level of your business.

The Department of Home Affairs has a well-established Employment Suitability Clearance (ESC) which invites your perusal if you are seeking that highly paid dream job.

Barringtons boasts of its associations with the federal government in Australia to assist with the clearance of applicants for sensitive jobs.

On the other side of town, major service providers have a preference for low wage part-time casual employment in key service industries such as security, traffic control and road maintenance. It extends to sub-contracting for the delivery of essential services.

Progressive Australians would be well aware of the extent of injustice in these casual workplaces. Without high rates of trade union membership, casuals work without sick leave, holiday pay and at home sites are offered a thirty-minute lunch break without pay. Casual workers have to endure these work sites for years without any improvement in conditions.

Federal funding for the states and territories is so tight that our state governments are still on the receiving end of traditional anti-debt and deficit policies from Canberra.

Queensland received no financial assistance for its cross-river rail project with construction work in the early stages on new inner-city underground rail stations at a cost of over $6 billion over several years.

Last year’s federal budget figures showed that the prospects for improvements in funding for the states and territories from specific purpose grants are not increasing fast enough to meet reasonable delivery costs.

Queensland hospitals are under real strain from an increasing popularity of access to free hospitals for hospitalization and out-patient services as patients are out of pocket at most private clinics which cannot survive permanently on current levels of Medicare remuneration for totally bulk-billed services.

GST entitlements to the states and territories will add a temporary positive hue to public finances. These additional allocations to GST will add an additional $70-75 billion to allocations to the states and territories for 2021-22. The likely positive trends in GST allocations are linked to the benefits of additional iron ore sales to China.

In previous federal budgets prior to the arrival of COVID, the federal LNP was keen to erode its revenue base with overly generous taxation concessions and tax avoidance protocols to its corporate and private household support bases. This year Treasurer Frydenberg promises to be more even handed with less talk of debt and deficit.

Let’s see what happens next week when the federal budget is delivered for 2021-22. Regardless of the next election date, it is likely to be the last budget before the national elections. Expect a soft-sell approach from a plan to gain re-election without the distraction of too many cross-bench senators.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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17 comments

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  1. Kaye Lee

    What that table says to me is that the number of unemployed people has increased by 8.7% over the last year. An extra 62,100 people are unemployed and this is while Jobkeeper was still being paid.

  2. Lana

    The LNP wants its way by deregulating employment protection. Politics is not always logical but Scott Morrison’s government will seize any opportunity to get re-elected.

  3. Leila

    The electorate is still waiting to be inspired by the alternatives to the LNP. Recent polling tommid-April produced mixed results as measured by Strategic Polling. That seems months away now. The post-budget polling will clarify the ambiguities shown in recent polling. Will Scott Morrison seize any window of opportunity created by the budget rhetoric to go back to a spring 2021 election? That is the big unknown in Australian politics.

  4. Denis Bright

    Your interpretation of the yearly data is entirely correct, Kaye. In the short-term, however over one month from February to March, there was an improvement in the overall unemployment rate. From ABS on 15 April 2021 with the next release after the federal budget on 20 May 2021 and then 16 June 2021: Key statistics Seasonally adjusted estimates for March 2021: Unemployment rate decreased to 5.6%. Participation rate increased to 66.3%. Employment increased to 13,077,600. Employment to population ratio increased to 62.6%. Underemployment rate decreased to 7.9%. Monthly hours worked increased by 38 million hours. My article qualifies the significance of this improvement and during a month when JobKeeper was still operating until 28 March 2021. If the trendline of improvement continues, it is quite favourable to the LNP. It is able to be exploited for pre-election marketing to take those senate spots back which were lost in 2016. Those senators or their successors from the far-right and Xenophon Party (Now Centre Alliance) are up for re-election. Both of us are coming from a similar perspective. The re-election of the Morrison Government and an easier path for its legislation through the senate are frightful prospects. All the resources of the Scott Ministry are being directed at talking up meaningless short-term data with fundamentalist certainty. These are difficult political times for social democracy as shown by the results of the Hartlepool by-election in far-off Britain

  5. Chris

    The casualization of Australian employment will ultimately hold back economic recovery wirth JobKeeper removed on 28 March 2021.

  6. Pat

    Australia needs more investment over harsh wages and employment protocols against the welfare of low income earners. Scott Morrison is short on new investment options and will probably turn to Fortress Australia strategies with the support of our US Allies with their intimate ties with strategic companies delivering for the armed forces even if this means the possibility of accidental war through a mishap on the high seas in those patrols to our north.

  7. Terence Mills

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines a person who is unemployed as one who, during a specified reference period, is not employed for one hour or more, is actively seeking work, and is currently available for work.

    If we are going to place so much emphasis on these unemployment numbers, which following the ABS criteria, are next to meaningless and as our government equates employment with our general economic well being as a nation, surely we would be better to use a reference point related to income in the form of take home pay.

    At the present time the government would have us believe that the holy grail is having a four in front of the percentage of unemployed in our society. But it means nothing beyond a few additional gig jobs that don’t even provide a livable wage.

    Let’s get real !

  8. Paul

    Australia was once a world leader in employment law. What’s happened since that progressive era of the Harvester Judgement of 1908 which was successfully challenged by employers. Best wishes Denis in your research on Employsure which is the employer’s advocate in challenging those weak controls from the Fair Work Commission.

  9. Paul

    COVID is one of the worst challenges to Australian life since the frontier wars against our indigenous people who were directly killed in drives or fell victim to
    European diseases. The Australian Left must shine the way forward and not allow neoconservatives to win the media debate about our future directions. as in the
    period between the world wars.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Denis,

    Whilst the 2016 election, being a double dissolution thus reducing the quota requirements, saw the LNP lose a few Senate seats, at the 2019 election, they picked up 5, all from the crossbench. Labor and the Greens remained steady. This time, six of the 14 crossbenchers are up for re-election, three Greens (one each from Vic, Tas and WA), Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick from SA, and Pauline Hanson. I’m not sure that the LNP are likely to unseat any of them (maybe Stirling Griff?). Here’s hoping anyway.

    Pleased to hear that Eric Abetz has been dropped to third spot on the ticket in Tasmania and that the unelected Amanda Stoker missed out on her bid for top billing in Queensland (though James McGrath is nothing to celebrate).

  11. Lara G.

    Australia should consolidate its social justice traditions by offering permanent employment with access to sick leave and holiday pay. It was a world leader in 1908 with the Harvester Judgment that gained acceptance despite opposition from bosses. What a contrast to the current situation in the Philippines.

  12. Tessa_M

    Hopefully more support in the upcoming budget to boost employment and assist people who are looking for employment.

  13. James_Robo

    Interesting to hear about the real figures rather than those hyped up in the mainstream media.

  14. Terence Mills

    While on statistics, this from the Australia Institute :

    In 2020-21, Australian Federal and state governments provided a total of $10.3 billion worth of spending and tax breaks to assist fossil fuel industries. The $7.8 billion cost of the fuel tax rebate alone is more than the budget of the Australian Army. Over the longer term, $8.3 billion is committed to subsidising gas extraction, coal-fired power, coal railways, ports, carbon capture and storage,and other measures.

    https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/P1021-Fossil-fuel-subsidies-2020-21-Web.pdf

  15. Florence Howarth

    Bosses & government are complaining about the lack of skilled workers. that can’t be blamed on covid19. Goes all the way back to Howard’s dismantling of the public training sector, opening it up to the private sector. The result being gutting of the public sector, replace by shonky operators. Costly, delivering no skilled workers. The undermining of such as TAFE has continued three terms of this government. Lack of money added to undermining the public sector has continued.

    Casualisation, Labour hire has led to the manufacturing dropping any pretence of skilling their workers. The biggest cause is the privatisation of government departments such as rail, electricity, many more, who all had big training within their structure.

    Most employers in my youth took on untrained workers. train them within their businesses. Bosses today demand fully experience, trained workers.

  16. Stella

    Denis, thanks for a very well-researched article. The casualisation of the Australian workforce is such an important issue affecting the quality of life of many.

  17. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks for the discussion. AIM News Netowrk can get people talking on our issues of concern. I will be wanting to check out Employsure for future discussions on our unequal economic recovery. This is a 24/7 service to assist employers. Phone 1300 651 415

    Homepage

    Sites which don’t welcome inquiries from the media are always worth investigating. What are they hiding when casual workers have few riights under the Morrison Government?

    I am motivated by that casual employee who directs traffic at a government contruction site without a paid lunch break in years. All in the name of Market Ideology but not for her welfare.

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