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Tag Archives: under-employment

Unemployment down, but recovery still way off: ACTU

Any cries from the Morrison government championing the gains in unemployment figures being tied to a greater economic outlook has a premature ring to it, Australia’s union movement said on Thursday.

As the nation’s unemployment figures fell by 0.2 per cent to 6.6 per cent for the month of December, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said that despite 50,000 people returning to work in 2020’s final month, 900,000 people are still looking for work with another 1.2 million being in search of more hours.

“The recovery means nothing for the more than two million workers who are still looking for a job or for more hours, this government is leaving millions of people behind,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.

“We have heard a lot about economic recovery, but for many Australians this is still completely out of reach,” O’Neil added.

The ACTU’s general assessments are shared by Labor MP Brendan O’Connor, the shadow minister for employment.

“Labor welcomes any additional job to the labour market,” O’Connor said on a doorstop interview in Melbourne on Thursday.

“It’s really important now, at a time when many Australians are finding it very difficult to find work or to find enough work, that we see opportunities in the labour market, and there’s been some modest signs of that.

“But there’s still a very long way to go,” he added.

The hurdles which the government has yet to clear consist mainly of the unemployment rate and a state of wage growth having been stagnant under seven years of consecutive LNP governments.

“There’s over 15 percent of Australians that are either looking for more work, or looking for any work and not being able to find it. And that needs to be therefore the goal of the government to look after those workers who are underemployed, unemployed, and also deal with the persistent low wage growth,” O’Connor said.

“We have people even when they are employed are finding it difficult to make ends meet, because of the very, very low wage growth,” he added.

And the solutions to those issues are not simple ones, either, according to O’Connor – especially when the Morrison government continues to stand by its failed and doomed initiatives with blind faith.

“What we’ve seen from this government is it’s very happy to help some, but not help everyone,” O’Connor said.

For example, the JobMaker initiative announced by the government last year was to help people recover after the end of JobKeeper. However, no worker over the age of 35 will be provided any support in looking for work, now or indeed when JobKeeper ends” at the end of March, O’Connor added.

Both O’Connor and O’Neil share the similar view that one stopgap for the economy lies within the JobKeeper and JobSeeker subsidies: extend them beyond their current planned March 31 expiry dates.

“For those hundreds of thousands of Australians that are reliant on JobKeeper, for those thousands and thousands of businesses that are reliant on JobKeeper, they have only ten more weeks before that support ends,” O’Connor said.

“And so it’s Labor’s view, and others for that matter, that there may well be many Australians that will find themselves unemployed at the end of JobKeeper, and we advise the government to properly consider extending JobKeeper for those sectors of the economy that have still been very hard hit as a result of this pandemic,” he added.

“Many sectors still badly affected by the pandemic, such as tourism, aviation and universities, are being left struggling and without support,” said O’Neil.

Further to these points, O’Neil says that the current government lacks vision to fix the economic problems brought on by the multiple crises of the global COVID-19 pandemic and a resulting once-in-a-generation national recession that Australia still finds itself in the grips of, despite recent modest gains.

“A genuine recovery from the pandemic and the associated recession requires sector support, job creation and wage growth.

“It is more important than ever for the government to look after working people, not set them back by cutting JobSeeker payments and ending JobKeeper,” added O’Neil.

“The federal government needs to do more,” O’Connor concurred.

Employment minister Michaelia Cash, whose shortcomings to adapt JobActive since February have been exposed (Photo from abc.net.au)

O’Connor also points out a significant statistical shift in existing employment advocacy programs which the government and its employment minister Michaelia Cash has failed to address in adapting its programs to the changes within rising unemployment numbers and the jobs culture as a whole.

O’Connor singled out the JobActive program, citing that it has doubled in size – from 700,000 users to 1.4 million – since February and pre-pandemic times.

“There’s been no proper examination of the effectiveness and efficacy of the Jobactive program. That needs to be attended to and examined by the government,” O’Connor said.

“But what that really says is there are many, many Australians whilst they are employed, they’re not employed with sufficient hours so they are still engaged with employment services seeking to find new work, more work, so that they can make ends meet,” he added.

O’Neil and the ACTU, meanwhile, point out that the dichotomy of the Morrison government languishing in a still-struggling economy amid cutting the JobKeeper and JobSeeker subsidies and pushing its proposed industrial relations reform legislation possesses counter-productive effects towards backing its ultimate claims that the economy is recovering.

“The Morrison government’s plans to cut income support and introduce industrial relations legislation which cuts workers’ pay and conditions will worsen unemployment, increase insecure work and further drive down wage growth,” O’Neil warned.

 

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MYEFO missing points on long-term recovery: ACTU

Unemployment numbers were reported to have improved on Thursday while federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed that Australia’s economy was rebounding – but the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) sent out a message of its own: increase wages and help the insecure workforce, and the nation can be guided out of recession.

As the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was reporting two divergent numbers relating to the nation’s employment figures – unemployment had improved by 0.2 per cent to 6.8 per cent for the month of November, but also noted that underemployment figures had improved by 1.0 per cent to 9.4 per cent – Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president, insisted that wage growth was the best way to ensure a faster and stronger economic recovery.

And as O’Neil’s comments come in the wake of Thursday’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) presentation update by Frydenberg and Simon Birmingham, the government’s minister for finance, she pointed out that the government’s update lends very little hope for those who had sacrificed close to a year of their working lives in 2020.

“The government had an opportunity to show that they do really care about the future of so many unemployed and underemployed Australians, but failed to deliver that today,” said O’Neil.

“We must not forget that 2.2 million Australians will be facing the end of the year with no job or not enough hours, and the government’s mid-year economic statement does not deal with this fundamental issue,” she added.

The ACTU also advised that the nation’s under-employment figures come with a caveat: while it is encouraging that people are returning to work, the government, as well as the ABS, defines anyone who works as little as an hour per week as being employed.

It also said that any current signs of recovery out of a once-in-a-generation recession possess a shaky foundation – of that recovery being quite fragile, warning that the jobless rate could possibly return to COVID-level rates without the proper vision and leadership to create jobs and increase wages.

“They had an opportunity today to redirect unspent JobKeeper to reverse the cut in payments coming at Christmas and to fund programs that would deliver decent secure jobs that help rebuild our economy, but have shirked that responsibility,” said O’Neil.

“Further, there is no plan to lift wages which have now seen eight years of low growth including the lowest on record – and we know that unless workers have confidence to spend the economy will suffer. Instead, the Morrison government has introduced industrial relations legislation which will cut workers take-home pay,” O’Neil added.

Meanwhile, both Frydenberg and Birmingham used the occasion of the MYEFO to thump the collective chest of the Morrison government, claiming that economic recovery is underway.

“Today’s [federal] budget update confirms Australia’s economy is rebounding strongly,” Frydenberg said.

“The updated numbers are encouraging and better than what was expected at budget just ten weeks ago,” the Treasurer added.

“This Budget update tells a story of resilience, of recovery and of Australians getting back to work. Stronger business and consumer confidence means more Australians are in jobs [and] there are fewer demands on government programs and stronger than expected revenue,” said Birmingham, who has forecast that the budget deficit is expected to be $24 billion less than previously anticipated.

“These forecasts, along with the other economic forecasts, stand Australia in incredibly good stead, relative to many other comparable nations. In summary, Australia’s economic and fiscal strength enabled us to enter the COVID-19 crisis with resilience,” added Birmingham.

O’Neil also put the government’s figures – which also included a line from Frydenberg saying it could take up to four years to return the unemployment rate to pre-pandemic levels – in a perspective, that revenue numbers over deficits wouldn’t be possible without tax-related incentives to businesses.

And she feels that a long-term plan for growing the economy, raising wages for all workers, and jobs-based growth has been lost in the government’s feel-good messages.

“The government has chosen the ‘low road’ recovery, with un-tied tax cuts to big business, and failed to deliver a nation-building approach to job growth,” O’Neil said.

Previously, the ACTU had called for the Morrison government to adopt and implement its National Economic Recovery Plan (NERP), a jobs-based economic recovery blueprint geared towards getting Australia out of recession, on several occasions since unveiling it in July.

Areas such as creating more secure jobs, extending childcare and early learning free of charge, investing in job-training facilities and programs, such as the TAFE system, investing in the nation’s university system, and placing a focus on jobs and investment in the manufacturing sector, were among the items on that blueprint.

But as wage growth has stagnated under successive LNP governments since 2013, the view of O’Neil and the ACTU which holds that area as the most critical means of pushing economic recovery is shared by Brendan O’Connor, Labor’s shadow minister for employment and industry.

 

Shadow employment minister Brendan O’Connor, spruiking direct action to combat a jobs crisis (Photo from TWU Vic/Tas)

 

“If the economy was as strong as the Treasurer claims, there wouldn’t still be a million Australians stuck in the jobless queues, 1.4 million workers underemployed and more left out and left behind in this recovery,” O’Connor said earlier in the week.

“While too many Australians and communities are hurting, the Liberals and Nationals are reverting to form and using the pandemic as an excuse to cut workers’ pay, cut super and strip protections from borrowers,” added O’Connor, who earlier in the month announced on behalf of the ALP what it calls a Pandemic Recovery Jobs and Industry Taskforce.

As the ALP’s initiative could be viewed as a complement to the ACTU’s NERP blueprint, O’Connor says it runs counter to what the Morrison government has been alleged to be doing in the heart of a jobs and economic crisis – leaving people to go at it in a survival-of-the-fittest regimen.

“The Taskforce will travel around the country – particularly to outer-metropolitan, regional and rural areas – to hear from employees, employers, unions, industry bodies, academics and experts about what is needed to best respond to the Morrison recession,” O’Connor said.

 

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Insecure work inquiry forthcoming: Tony Burke

With ever-growing concerns among those in Australia’s union movement over rising levels of casual work and under-employment, a Senate inquiry on insecure work will take place in 2021, shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke announced on Friday.

This inquiry has been announced days after industrial relations reforms measures in the way of proposed legislation announced by the Morrison government and Attorney-General Christian Porter, Burke’s counterpart in industrial reforms matters, was seen by Labor to offer precious little if anything in the way of easing the levels of insecure work.

And as the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has come out to assail the proposed “WorkChoices 2.0” legislation as resulting the cutting of workers’ pay and conditions in addition to avoiding scrutiny of insecure work issues, Burke says that Labor shares the ACTU’s concerns about putting more people into more permanent working positions.

“Some Australians like the flexibility of casual or gig work. But Labor wants to see more people in secure work, with good reliable pay and the highest of safety standards,” he said in announcing the inquiry.

“Insecure work is the pandemic that will stay with us – long after the COVID-19 threat has passed,” added Tony Sheldon, the Senator from New South Wales and former national secretary of the Transport Workers Union who will be chairing the inquiry.

Sheldon hinted that those working in the gig economy – from food delivery drivers and riders, and those operating ride-share services, to any form of temporary contract workers, freelancers, consultants and independent contractors and professionals – would be examined towards reaching more permanent employment solutions for their sectors as well as that of the entire workforce.

The recent deaths of five food delivery riders in Sydney’s CBD since the end of September has also hastened the need to bring the issues of gig economy jobs within the spheres of insecure work as a whole into focus alongside the need to regulate the nature of that type of work, said Sheldon.

“It is not acceptable that an underclass of work has been spawned where workers are denied the basic rights and minimum protections all Australians deserve,” said Sheldon.

In October, in Victoria, the Victorian Council on Social Services (VCOSS) drew links – centred around the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – between those whose employment was defined as being of an insecure nature and workers’ declining states of health and well-being.

“… our industrial relations framework has not kept pace with changes to the labour market, and neither has government policy,” the report stated at its outset.

Specific to those in the gig economy, the VCOSS report stated: “A safe workforce is a healthy workforce. COVID-19 has highlighted the heightened financial vulnerability of workers in the care sector, a lack of coordination and consistency in training, entitlements and protections, and the fragility of support systems in maintaining consistent, quality care

“Workers engaged in the gig economy, who work across multiple platforms or a mixture of platform and more traditional employment types, have no access, or limited access to sick leave and other entitlements. Wages vary across platforms, and time and travel costs between shifts are not compensated. Health, safety and workers compensation arrangements depend on a worker’s employment status.”

Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke, who announced the inquiry (Photo from abc.net.au)

Burke said the inquiry is set to commence under Sheldon’s chairmanship when Parliament returns from its summer break in February, and its investigations stemming from it could take up a majority of the year ahead of a final reporting date of November 2021.

Those investigations may include personal security areas such as in income and housing, as well as dignity in retirement, affecting roughly four million Australians lacking the benefits and entitlements tied to permanent employment.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything it’s that insecure work is not just a threat to the wellbeing of individuals – it’s a threat to the wellbeing of our society,” said Burke.

Meanwhile, Wes Lambert, the chief executive officer of the Restaurant and Catering Association (R&CA), said in October that the lack of legislative definitions over what constitutes a gig economy worker was an area which required addressing.

Lambert, stating the R&CA’s position on the heels of a deadline for submissions into a State of Victoria’s own inquiry on the status of the gig economy and insecure work, said that his organisation seeks to operate within the rules and standards to suit gig economy workers – as long as all parties knew what was expected of them.

“[The] R&CA expressly does not condone sham contracting arrangements, or any other such arrangement deliberately intended to undermine employees,” said Lambert.

“However, [the] R&CA submits that the current laws and workplace protections are not fit for the purpose in the 21st century, particularly as the world of work continues to change in the current and post-pandemic climate.

Lambert added that without any clear definitions in any current amendments of the Fair Work Act (2009), members of his industry sectors could run wild and rampant with interpretations as to what makes up gig economy participants.

“Such an arrangement, in the R&CA’s view, would create opportunities for unintentional mis-classifications resulting in disparate inconsistencies.

“More interestingly, if an employer can prove that they were not aware that the employee was not a contractor, and they were not reckless, they would not be in breach of the Act, nor be subject to any civil penalties,” he said.

So while an industry organisation such as the B&CA views and supports investigations around what next year’s Senate inquiry is trying to achieve, Sheldon says that the practice of insecure work is far from restricted to industries such as hospitality and tourism alone.

“Insecure work is not just found in food delivery and ride-sharing – it is expanding across the economy including the mining, retail, hospitality, health and aged care, university and information technology sectors,” Sheldon said.

“This inquiry comes at a critical time for our economy and for the future of work,” he added.

 

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