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Issue #1931      September 7, 2020

Jobs, jobs, jobs

What’s the solution to unemployment? Jobs. What’s the solution to the failing economy? Jobs. What’s the solution to the health crisis? Unionised jobs.

In #1929, our article “Unemployment disaster” reported that while we have over one million unemployed people, the reality is much worse. The total number of underutilised workers is more than 2.5 million people, which represents twenty per cent of the labour force.

Multiple actions are being taken in defence of underutilised workers. There is the campaign to “Raise the Rate for Good” by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS); the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) is pushing its demands to “Keep the Rate” and for a Jobs Guarantee program; the Living Income for Everyone (LIFE) has launched to coordinate campaigns around JobSeeker and JobKeeper; and unions have also been campaigning hard for a functioning social security safety net such as United Workers’ Union’s “JobKeeper for All” campaign.

But will an increase to social security be enough or do we need more?

From dole bludger to job snob

This rhetoric of “job snobs” that the bourgeois politicians and mainstream media have been obsessed with has its explicit purpose. We should ask ourselves why have we moved from “dole bludger” to “job snob”?

Job snob has a specific function, separate to dole bludger. While dole bludger paints an image of someone preferring to live the oh-so-luxurious lifestyle of skipping meals and not making rent, job snob paints underutilised workers as too arrogant to accept work!

This rhetoric ties hand in hand with the government’s policy of withdrawing all social security payments if an unemployed person refuses a job offer. This forces people to accept jobs that might be harmful to their health, forces them to relocate, or jobs with illegal wages in fear of losing their JobSeeker payments if they refuse.

As mentioned in #1925: “How hard is it to just keep Social Security above the poverty line?” – the job snob rhetoric has no basis in reality. The amount of jobs advertised on Seek could only provide jobs for roughly ten per cent of people on JobSeeker.

The combination of a lack of available jobs and the cutting of social security creates a perfect situation for workers to pay for the health crisis. This reserve army of labour can be hired as scab labour to break strikes, betray fellow workers, and shackle trade unions.

The capitalists are in a situation where they can pit employed and unemployed workers against each other. To overcome this, it’s imperative that unemployed workers are as organised as employed workers.

Disabled workers

One group that slips by unnoticed are disabled workers. Disabled workers have been battling this situation ever since the emergence of industrial capitalism and the standardisation of the worker’s body. Disabled workers have always made up a significant proportion of the reserve army of labour.

While some organisations are campaigning for a rise to the Disability Support Pension (DSP), which was left out of the Coronavirus Supplement extended to JobSeeker and Youth Allowance, there has been little attention on other areas of underpaid and underutilised disabled workers.

Schemes that are adopted to employ disabled workers are exploitative and drive down wages for able-bodied workers. One such scheme is the Supportive Wage System (SWS), which ties a worker’s productivity to their wage and can pay as little as 12.5 per cent of award rates or $2.44 per hour.

Subsidising disability employment in the not-for-profit and private sector does not solve the issue of unemployment. Rather, unemployment rates stay the same as businesses will lay off able-bodied workers in favour of a cheaper source of labour. By rorting the system, businesses can effectively employ casualised labour with a bonus.

Disability Employment Services (DES) (the disability equivalent of Job Service Providers) will file disabled JobSeekers into streams of severity of disability and supply these workers to businesses who the government gives up to $6,000 over 26 weeks as an incentive to employ.

A similar story can be found for mature workers where businesses can receive up to $10,000 over twenty-six weeks for hiring mature workers through wage subsidy schemes. When job contracts include a probationary period of twenty-six weeks, these workers are simply laid off and replaced with a new, subsidised worker.

Expand the public sector

To provide good, unionised jobs that will not exploit the current pool of underutilised workers, we need an immediate expansion of the public sector. This would include expanding Centrelink, the public health sector, and public education; investing in infrastructure development and affordable public housing; nationalising the airlines; ending privatisation; and equal pay and job creation for disabled workers including mature workers in the public sector.

Unfortunately, the government will not hand us a safety net and will do its best to make workers pay for the crisis. We must take things into our own hands by rallying around:

  • A Jobs Guarantee program that provides JobSeekers with full-time, minimum wage work
  • Abolition of Job Service Providers, work for the dole, mutual obligations, and exploitative disability employment schemes
  • No cuts to JobSeeker or JobKeeper
  • Expansion of JobSeeker and JobKeeper to cover all workers including migrants
  • Paid pandemic leave
  • Immediate expansion of the public sector

Or simply put: workers demand jobs, jobs, jobs!

Next article – Aged care workers speak out – “thank you is not enough”

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