The Anti-Adani protest has generated divisive anti-worker rhetoric. Preventative unemployment should be a key focus towards a post-coal world. This article discusses the importance of themes in the narrative towards a post-coal world and explores the approach to preventative unemployment policy.
Say No To Adani Is Just the Beginning
The anti-Adani movement is growing. It has progressed from a place of prominence on social media to a place of prominence in main stream media.
I have spent countless hours trying to engage with the Anti-Adani movement. I have persisted for a long period to bring the topic of jobs to the centre of the discussion. Placing the worker at the centre of the framework is crucial, as we move towards a post-coal world.
This is crucial because the Anti-Adani movement’s aim to shut down the Adani mine is just the beginning. It is not the end. A move towards alternative energy and away from coal is evident. Protests against existing mines are just a matter of time. The industrial landscape will change forever.
However, any discussion regarding jobs is dismissed and not taken seriously.
Screaming to Shut Down Jobs
Every Adani protester is protesting to shut down jobs and is part of a wider movement which will build and push to shut down even more heavy industry.
The wider narrative in the Anti-Adani movement, when the point of jobs is raised, makes this issue much bigger than Adani by default.
The Theming of Rebuttals
I have engaged almost every day in the Adani debate online, across various platforms for at least a year. In my experience, the rebuttals towards any argument put forward regarding jobs fall into a number of themes. The post-coal world is the framework for these themes, not just Adani per se.
This rebuttal insists that only Great Barrier Reef workers hold any importance and these workers are more important than Coal Workers.
This rebuttal dehumanises coal workers as a lower status of human. Job creation for this group is not considered. There is the assumption that these workers work in a dead industry and it is up to them to get out. Some insist it is up to the current coal mine owners to transition employees out now. Protestors see coal as an ugly and dirty industry. Therefore, stigmatisation of coal workers occurs.
Externalising Blame to the Coal Worker
This rebuttal is related to the above and shifts the blame of climate change to the actual worker. ie Coal workers are ruining the planet.
The Assumption of Automatic Transition
Coal workers will all automatically transition to a renewables job and this is the best fit for ex-coal workers is the assumption.
The Assumption of Geographical Transition
The assumption is that renewable energy companies will hire the ex-coal workforce. The other assumption is the same location will house the new industry. See above.
The Dismissal of Impact
This rebuttal rejects that coal mining has any significant contribution to the Australian economy and renewables will generate much more revenue and jobs than coal. Also, local economies will remain unchanged. This rebuttal also assumes that small business or the allocation of public services funding and infrastructure funding will not change.
This rebuttal insists that we must sacrifice all coal jobs for the greater good; because if we don’t then there will be no world and no jobs.
Personally Directed Themes
When I raised jobs as an issue, the following themes occurred.
Personal investment – The major theme is ‘pro-coal‘. It is my observation that participants in this movement are unable to differentiate between pro-jobs and pro-coal.
Another theme is “Queensland Bias” as it is my home state.
Guilt – The other major theme is guilt. This is usually a counter-argument after jobs are raised. For example, accusations relating to; not caring about the Great Barrier Reef, GBR workers, First Nations people and land rights and not caring about Farmers.
From my perspective, it is important to include the personally directed themes, as these themes are quite prevalent. In addition, I would argue that these types of retaliations are an active part of a phenomenon which dismisses the worker by delegitimising the concern of the pro-jobs advocate.
This poses problems for any politician who tries argue the point for jobs. Not just at this moment regarding Adani, but as this movement progresses towards the insistence of more closures of heavy industry. On Qanda, the panel and audience ultimately dismissed Senator Canavan when he raised the issue of high unemployment for local areas near the mine.
The theme around this post coal transition within politics is largely devoid of any conversation around the transition of jobs and skills. The political themes are:
Climate Change Targets – This theme is central to reducing carbon emissions.
Alternative Energy – This theme is central to exploring the use of alternative energy, rather than the importance of transition of jobs within this shift.
Renewables the Best Fit – Renewables as the best fit for coal workers is assumed. Attracting other industry is not discussed. The redistribution of the public sector is also not discussed.
The Importance of Themes for Transition
I have highlighted these themes, as I see them, as I believe they play a central part ensuring the recognition of the worker occurs.
Through the attempt to understand the current phenomenon using theming, we can then identify the actors within the phenomenon and what impact the phenomenon has as it develops. We can use this insight to shape society.
The worker will remain in the background unless we reflect upon these themes. Therefore, the worker will be an accidental casualty of the movement towards a post coal world.
In addition, these themes contribute to the way we insist that political parties approach a transition. For example, the emphasis placed on skills transition and profession transition.
Most importantly, whether political parties implement curative or preventative unemployment strategies to address unemployment.
Preventative and Curative Unemployment Policy
Policy development towards unemployment takes two forms, preventative and curative. Essentially, preventative policy enables measures to prevent unemployment. Curative policy development is reactionary and punitive and seeks to address the consequences of unemployment.
On the Road to Somewhere
It is essential that political parties develop a solid transition plan based on skills and jobs. However, there is not enough detail in the current Labor and Greens transition plans. A focus on energy rather than jobs is evident. I have been unable to source a transition plan by the Liberal National Coalition Government.
The Greens’ transition plan discusses the rehabilitation of mines as the main alternative job for ex-coal workers.
Labor’s transition plan takes a more holistic approach. However, I would argue that some points such as redeployment and relocation do not focus on community.
A detailed transition plan consisting of where the new industry will be developed, a jobs and skills forecast, including projected employment types, such as ongoing and casual should be developed. In addition, an examination of the reconfiguration of new industry and public services should occur.
The road to where we are heading, how we will get there and what happens when we get there is now urgent.
Preventative Unemployment Strategies
The Shorten Labor Government does discuss preventative unemployment strategies as part of their transition plan. However, this is more implicit, rather than explicit. We urgently need a strong voice pushing a detailed jobs narrative.
Increase in Demand Side Employment
As the transition away from coal jobs occurs, an increase in the demand for labour is essential. A forecast of job losses in coal areas should enable political parties to develop a blue print for planning.
Business incentives to encourage businesses to relocate and set up in local areas could be advantageous. In addition, job creation through Government intervention would be beneficial.
National Skills and Career Development Strategy
Often skills development is discussed from a curative point of view of ‘getting the unemployed skilled for work’. However, within a preventative strategy, the addition of career development is an essential addition. The development of new skills to supply labour is essential as the transition away from coal assumes an increase in unemployment. This shift is structural and understood. Therefore, the worker can complete career development programs during their employment with a coal based employer.
A focus on preventative unemployment would see a national strategy employed where employers are subsidised to release existing labour for new skills development training.
Funding of Universities to develop appropriate courses and recruit staff ahead of time is also vital.
Reconfiguration of the Labor Market
A micro approach to local economies should examine the requirements to reconfigure the labour market within Australia. Within a preventative strategy as alternatives or additions to renewable jobs and how this should be configured should be examined. For example, in conjunction with renewable jobs, local government areas may be identified as specific hubs. Such as telecommunications hubs, community sector hubs, aged care hubs.
A reconfiguration, redistribution and a reassessment of public sector need and staffing establishments required to adequately service the population should also be considered. Regional unemployment figures, rather than national unemployment figures, should be a measure of success.
A Strong Supply Side Voice in a Pluralistic Framework
The changes required towards a post coal world, including an increase in labour demand, a change of career and wages for many workers and a loss of increment/experience level is perceived.
The suppression of voice of the supply side of labour is a dangerous pressure from Liberal National Governments. They may argue that secure employment and strong labour regulations may reduce the desire for employers to employ more entrants into the new industry. They may argue that new industry in a new market is volatile and wages should be kept as low as possible and work as flexible as possible to enable growth.
However, a preventative framework should be a pluralistic framework. Therefore, the Government, employers and unions should work together to set the standards and improve worker security in new industries and in transitioning local economies.
From Punitive to Preventative Unemployment
Punitive measures underpin curative unemployment strategies. These have become increasingly harsh and prevalent since the 1990’s. Curative policies focus on the unemployed rather than the labour market. Therefore the motivations of the unemployed are questioned (and punished) rather than a recognition that there is not enough demand for labour in the market.
This transitional shift to a post coal world could also transition the job search framework. In a preventative system creating labour demand to match the under-utilised supply would be the focus. A preventative unemployment strategy would see a Government motivated to intervene to create jobs, invest in skills and career development.
In a curative system, the underlying assumption is punitive. The jobless are blamed for their own unemployment. This is usually a lack of motivation and intrinsic propensity to learn or work. ‘Curing’ the causes of lack of motivation or desire to work are the strategies employed. Currently, these are financial penalties and working as free labour for welfare benefits.
In a preventative system creating labour demand to match the under-utilised supply would be the focus. A preventative unemployment strategy would see a Government motivated to intervene to create jobs. Also, invest in skills and career development of new and transitioning workers and incentivize business.
The Worker Front and Centre
A consideration of the themes identified in the narrative in the shift towards a post coal society is critical to transition towards a narrative which places the worker front and centre in the climate change framework.
We need a detailed transition plan urgently. The implementation of preventative unemployment strategies will ensure a smooth transition to a post-coal world.