Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A Fair Day's Wages For A Fair Day's Work*: has an employment epoch finally come to an inglorious end?

Looking at the Australian employment market in 2016 and 2017 one has to ask if this country has entered the Era of Exploitation………

ABC News, 1 March 2017:

the Australian economy is currently growing at around 2 per cent per annum. That's about fast enough to keep the unemployment rate steady, but it's not fast enough to create lots of new jobs. To create jobs, it needs to grow at least 2.5 to 3 per cent per annum.

The economy isn't growing fast enough for a whole bunch of reasons, but the big picture is that we haven't been able to transition as smoothly as we would have liked from the mining boom, to an economy being driven by a number of different sectors.

The sectors of the economy that have enjoyed increased activity are healthcare, hospitality, and tourism. These sectors tend to be biased towards hiring part-time workers.

Nine2Three Employment Solutions in Sydney's Sutherland Shire specialises in placing candidates into part-time roles. Managing director, Kathryn MacMillan, say business is booming. Right now, she's placing job seekers into part-time roles including mining, tourism, retail, clerical and accounts-type roles, sales roles and business development.

Ms MacMillan explained to me that she's placing lots of mums re-entering the workforce, and people after just a few days of work a week. Part-time work can also be convenient for students, and for those returning to the workforce after an illness or injury.

You can't ignore, however, the hundreds of thousands of Australians over the past 12 months that have either lost their job, or would dearly like to work more (to help pay the mortgage, utility bills etc.).

We know, for instance, the economy shed 53,000 full-time positions in September last year. Another 44,800 full-time jobs disappeared in January.

It's really quite straight forward. The Australian economy is transitioning, and many workers are getting left behind.

Remember the kids' game, musical chairs? Everyone has a seat to start with. That was the mining boom. The music started playing during the financial crisis, and now that it's stopped, we've noticed quite a few chairs have been taken away. We're now seeing two or three people trying to squeeze onto the same chair in many cases!

Darren Coppin is the chief executive of Esher House. His company spits out all sorts of interest research. He told me recently that this big economic transition has also ignited a bit of a social change.

He explained to me that 30 years ago the man did most of the paid-for work (40 hours a week). Since then millions of women have entered the workforce. During the 1980s and 1990s both men and women were working more, and earning more (excluding the recession).

Recently, however, the economy's been unable to sustain those jobs.

Now, women tend to be working 25 hours a week, while men also work 25 hours a week (in trend terms). So, overall, the household is working more, but because both jobs may not be strictly full-time, the actual combined take-home pay at the end of the day is less.

So yes, you guessed it, overall we're working more, for less pay.

Record low wages growth is also rubbing salt into the wound.

Anecdotally I've met quite a lot of people who are doing their best to make the best of a bad situation.

Many couples with children, for instance, have decided to work nine-day fortnights. That means mum or dad takes one day off each week. That day's devoted to running errands, and, of course, child care... and cooking.

I spoke to a single mum last month who told me she felt quite isolated. She said she spends all of her waking hours working and looking after her child, with no time left over for friends, because the bills keep piling up (child care and rent being the ones that hurt).

While many Australians are working out how to get by, too many are really struggling.

I spoke to a few people last week who told me the decision by the Fair Work Commission to scrap Sunday penalty rate had been a kick in guts.

Mandy Carr, for example, a retail worker on Queensland's Gold Coast, had decided to return to work (post maternity leave) on the Sunday shift so her and her husband could get ahead financially.

She says the decision will cost her $100 each and every week.

There are too many Australians though that are angry... really angry.

They're upset because they'd desperately like to make a go of life. They want a home, and enough money on the side to give their kids opportunities in life. But they're being held back by a job that doesn't offer them enough in terms of hours and/or pay, and the cost of living keeps rising.

There's also the emotional toll that workers face with heightened job insecurity, combined with ever-increasing debt repayments.

The Reserve Bank governor told a Parliamentary Committee last week that the situation households face (having to cut back on spending because of rising costs and low wages) is "sobering".

The recognition of the problem is heartening. At this very moment though, recognising the problem is all we seem to be doing.

Low wages growth is at record breaking level and underemployment is endemic in Australia in this second decade of the 21st Century.

By December 2016 seasonally adjusted wages growth was 1.9 per cent December Quarter 2015 to December Quarter 2016, with growth in the private sector being lower still at 1.8 per cent.

Trend percentages are even more dismal.

In December 2016 the Cost Price Index (CPI) showed rises in the cost of food, non-alcoholic beverages, alcohol, tobacco, clothing, footwear, housing, furnishings, household equipment & services, recreation & culture, education, insurance and financial services – with CPI rises ranging from 1.8 per cent to 5.9 per cent December Quarter 2015 to December Quarter 2016.

According the Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Statistics in  December 2016 there were seasonally adjusted an:

est. 739,600 people who were unemployed and looking for full-time work – an est. 18,100 more individuals than in December 2015;

est. 3,814,200 people who were working part-time but would prefer to be working full-time – an est. 126,600 more individuals than in December 2015; and

est. 212,500 unemployed people who were exclusively looking for part-time work in December 2016 – an fall of est. 1,100 individuals since December 2015.

In November 2016 there were seasonally adjusted an est. 1,099,400 underemployed individuals - usually working less than 35 hours per week for a wage which does not meet economic needs. That represents an underemployment rate of 8.6 per cent.

In January 2017 there were around 129,800 more people working part-time than there were a year ago and around 40,100 fewer people working full-time and, despite an alleged small growth in full-time jobs in December 2016, the trend unemployment rate still stood at 5.7 per cent for the ninth consecutive month.

Affecting the take home pay of more than 700,000 workers, with those who regularly work Sunday shifts being left between $29 and over $80 worse off every week.

Many of these workers are already employed in industry sectors and regions which often allow only limited opportunity for changing employers.

According to the Internet Vacancy Index (based on a count of online job advertisements newly lodged on three main job boards SEEK, CareerOne and Australian JobSearch) in January 2017 job vacancies decreased in the Northern Territory, south west Western Australia, western Victoria and regional New South Wales - with the NSW North Coast showing a twelve month decline of -2.6 per cent and three month moving average of 1,700 job on offer to suitable applicants.

The effect of statistics such as this on individuals, families and communities are amplified across rural and regional Australia where the job market is usually tighter than in metropolitan areas and, I suspect that many of us living in the NSW Northern Rivers region have friends or family members struggling with poverty-level incomes due to unemployment or underemployment.

* The saying A Fair Day's Wages For A Fair Day's Work appears to have entered the public arena in or about 1839.

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