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Issue #1680      April 15, 2015

Australia is in the middle of an unemployment crisis

Going by the official figures released for January 2015, 795,000 people in Australia are unemployed (6.4%), the highest notional rate of unemployment for 13 years. But this figure does not tell the whole story.

1. It does not show that just under half of those unemployed are between the ages of 15-24 (361, 100), bringing the national youth unemployment rate to 16.1% (more than three times the total average).

2. It does not show that over 200,000 unemployed people are over the age of 50 - a 40% increase since 2010!

3. It does not show that there are over 1.2 million underemployed people competing against the unemployed for jobs.

4. It does not show that going by the latest figures for job vacancies, there are only 152,700 job vacancies. When you consider that there are over 2 million underemployed and employed people competing for these jobs, this means there are more than 13 applicants for each job vacancy!

5. It does not show that the rate of unemployment benefit is about half of what is needed to live above the poverty line, or that Newstart has not increased in real terms since 1994.

6. It does not show that one in four people collecting unemployment benefits has a significant disability and has over the last few years been pushed onto Newstart from the Disability Support Pension or that there are 100,000 single parents who have also been forced onto the starvation rate of Newstart.

7. And lastly it does not show that long-term unemployment has, over the last few years, doubled to 500,000 – or that the average time spent unemployed, according to the Australian Council of Social Services, is four years.

So how has the government responded to this unemployment crisis that has been slowly building in Australia over the past decade?

Has the Coalition tried to increase the rate of jobs available?

No. In fact they have done the opposite and have been systematically slashing jobs in the public service. Since being elected, 100,000 Australians have become unemployed. Even the government’s election promise to create 2 million jobs over the next decade is actually below the rate of expected employment growth!

Has the Coalition tried to take responsibility for its failure to create enough jobs by introducing a fair welfare system?

No. Instead, the Coalition has introduced the most wide-ranging series of attacks ever launched on the Australian welfare state since it was introduced in 1945.

Rather than attempting to fix this unemployment crisis, the federal government has launched an unprecedented range of attacks against the unemployed, pensioners, the disabled and families.

But most of you already knew about this.

The question that confronts us today is WHY and WHAT can we do about it?

Let’s first look at the question of why successive governments – both Labor and Liberal – have been forcing more and more people onto the starvation rate of the Newstart entitlement.

While the government has repeatedly told us that all these cuts are necessary in order to balance the budget, this is a lie.

The real reason is far more sinister.

By forcing hundreds of thousands of people on to the starvation rate of Newstart, what the government is effectively doing is making unemployed people so desperate, so impoverished, that they would be willing to accept almost any work at any conditions. For the last two decades, this strategy has placed a strong downward pressure on wages and conditions. As a direct result of this, today the growth of real wages has fallen to its lowest rate for 17 years!

It’s no coincidence that it was 17 years ago when John Howard first introduced the punitive Work for the Dole program and began an ongoing assault against the unemployed and the welfare state.

Seen from this perspective, the ongoing attacks against the unemployed, pensioners and the welfare state are essentially an elaborate form of welfare for business, paving the way for lower wages and conditions.

This brings me to my next point: What can we do about it?

Considering the destructive impact the ongoing attacks on our welfare system have had on Australian society, the Australian Unemployment Union has been working to unite all Centrelink recipients against these attacks.

Furthermore, we have been, conducting a campaign to reach out to the trade union movement to help us in our common struggle for a fair wage for all and to bring the humanity back into our welfare state.

If our common struggle is to succeed, we firmly believe we must show the trade union movement – and the general public more broadly – that to fight for a humane welfare state, for a fair rate of Newstart entitlement, for a fair rate of pension, and more broadly, for a fair opportunity of secure employment, is something that will benefit all Australians.

The Beacon

Next article – Call for moratorium on CSG

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