Monday, June 12, 2006

“Stubbornly high levels of long-term unemployment”

The stats here are clear enough: 108,500 people out of work for more than a year in April 2006, compared to 99,500 in April 2005. But it is what’s being planned to do about this that really takes the stubbornness cake.

Australian journalist Patricia Karvelas has a peculiar specialty, in breaking dole/DSP crackdown stories, yet being extremely modest about the fact that she is actually breaking them. Obviously, she has one or more high-level “ins” in Canberra and presumably feels that trumpeting this too loudly might jeopardize future exclusive leaks. For its part, Canberra must think that it gets something out of this cosy arrangement, as well. Tame journalism is the result – and Karvelas is so gutless that her leaked/insider pieces tend to be embarrassingly insufficient, even at a who/what/when level of basic concordance.

This news, hot from the desk of new-ish Workforce Participation Minister Sharman Stone, is a fine example of Karvelas’ lack of spine (I don’t believe that she is merely incompetent).

It starts with a simple enough, and previously flagged, premise – new rules from 1 July 2006 aimed at reducing long-term unemployment (aka “job shirkers”). As part of this, some unemployed will be required to participate in full-time work-for-the-dole programs. (“Full-time” WfD actually means 25 hrs/wk, nonetheless still a large increase on the current WfD norm of 15 hrs/wk). Following on from this, the content of WfD programs will also be tightened, with soft skills (e.g. making radio programs) “out”, and hard skills, like construction trades “in”.

Now at this point, an ethical journalist would surely show some scepticism. Most construction trades are, to this day, learned via multi-year apprenticeships. While I have no doubt that this time-length and mode are capable of some streamlining, Blind Freddie could see that even a year of WfD-auspiced training is not going to produce an employable tradesperson.

Indeed, Australia’s WfD has since its inception been explicitly non trades-training-based for several strong reasons. Rank protectionism (which also stops third-world plumbers et al from coming to Australia even as guest-workers) is first among them. Second are the inter-related problems of a hostile (because involuntary) trainee-force, and the sheer money required for such training to properly be done (I’m guessing at least $50k per head annually) being very hard to justify.

If fairly written, Karvelas’s story would read something like this:

In a miracle redolent of Biblical loaves and fishes, Workforce Participation Minister Sharman Stone tried to convince this hack that, despite no extra money being put in anywhere, long-term unemployment could be substantially reduced by training many of these people up to becoming de facto tradies.

Fortunately for Dr Stone, any electoral backlash from the coalition’s crucial Western Sydney tradie constituency has been pre-empted by the plan's status as an obvious failure, and joke.

When confronted with this Realpolitik, Dr Stone backtracked, saying that WfD programs that were little more than baby-sitting adults
could be okay, as long as they “[gave something] back to the community”.

When further pressed about how “job shirkers” – who are expected to be overwhelmingly GenX (and younger) men – would respond to being coercively corralled, Dr Stone simply flicked the demographic switch to "nonsense", saying the changes would most help
older men forced out of the labour market by the technology revolution.

Adding to the confusion, “make-work” WfD schemes are apparently "out" from 1 July, but 7000 places will then be available each year for employers to hire unemployed people who are
not “shirkers”. Does this mean 80s/early-90s-style direct wage subsidies are coming back? Probably not; it seems that WfD providers are being encouraged to re-badge themselves into dual shopfronts: a punishment room (and little else) for “shirkers”, and a sheltered workshop (aka “artificial workplace”) for the more docile remainder. But just don’t call the latter a “make-work” operation – it’s too “artificial” and under-funded for that!

excellent post
I notice that Patricia Karvelas has been appointed to the board of SBS. Funny that!

Thanks for the post.
best regards, nice info » »
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