It seems Scott Morrison can’t help himself.
As he races toward the economic cliff created by the impact of the COVD-19 pandemic he’s asked himself, “Shall we keep going”? Rather than slamming on the brakes and guiding Australia’s workers to safety, he’s determined to take us over the edge.
Let’s look at the numbers.
Australia currently has 15.1% of its labour market either unemployed or underemployed. That amounts to around 2 million Australians who are underutilised in the workforce.
This represents an enormous underutilisation of the productive capacity of Australia’s workers, the very same people who guided this country through the perils of 2020 as the pandemic raged and the country locked down, gripped by fear and uncertainty.
Australia’s workers may be winning the war against COVID-19, but the Morrison Government seems bent on ensuring they are losers in a lopsided recovery that prioritises the business lobby’s ideological obsession with reducing workers’ pay and condition to maximise profits.
As the Government’s self-imposed deadline to withdraw the union led JobKeeper and Jobseeker support payments looms in late March, Australian families will have to brace themselves as the Prime Minister sails off into the economic abyss.
ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, has sounded the alarm about just how precarious the situation is for Australian workers.
“The Prime Minister is demonstrating that he has no understanding of the uncertainty facing millions of Australians. The Australian economy has not recovered, and the burden is being shouldered by working Australians.
“Many industries like tourism and hospitality are still reeling, and this is not the time to cut support,” she said.
It’s impossible to overstate what a wrecking ball the pandemic has been to some industries.
In the arts and recreation sectors, 36% of jobs evaporated in the first three months, and many have yet to really return.
In the accommodation and food services industries, employment is still 11% down on the level of February 2020. In manufacturing, the level of job loss from pre-pandemic levels remains at a stubborn 8%. For the telecom, communications and information sector it’s an eye popping 9.6%.
These are catastrophic numbers that have real world consequences.
Families and communities across Australia have had their livelihoods upended, with mortgages and bills to pay and very little prospect of being able to forge a path forward with any financial certainty.
If not for JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs that the government was slow to adapt, these workers would have been wiped out by Australia’s over reliance of casualised and insecure work in Scott Morrison’s trapdoor economy.
These workers are just one adverse event away from falling through the trapdoor into economic distress, without sick pay, leave or any other entitlements.
“There is a very real possibility that employers will not be able to retain staff without the JobKeeper scheme, leaving thousands of Australians unemployed or without enough hours to sustain themselves and their families,” Ms O’Neil said.
The Government will claim that it has been reducing unemployment, but what it doesn’t talk about is nearly all of those jobs coming back online are casual and part-time, leaving Australian workers dangling over the trapdoor.
Over 400,000 casual jobs were created between May and November – by far the fastest surge in casual hiring in Australia’s history. These numbers make a mockery of employer claims that they are held back from hiring because of supposed ‘legal uncertainty’ regarding the rules of casual employment.
This is their preferred business model.
Right in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic, in June 2020, workers share of the national income fell below 50% for the first time since 1959. Meanwhile, COVID stimulus payments made to business saw company profits soar by just under 15%.
The pandemic was good business for some, but certainly not for workers.
Meanwhile, those that do have jobs are seeing their wages stuck in neutral and unlikely to grow anytime soon. Wage growth was a miserly 1.4% over the year to September 2020 and looks set to be even more meagre in the 2021.
Not a problem though for Australia’s 31 billionaires who have seen their enormous fortunes increase by $85 billion since the pandemic started.
Scott Morrison is in the driver’s seat and it seems his only plan to deal with growing inequality and job insecurity is to plough on regardless.
Michele O’Neil knows it’s the wrong way to go.
“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.”
It’s not too late for the Prime Minister to see the danger signs and pull a U-turn.
It’s the very least Australian workers deserve.