So much for liberation, where are the new jobs?

I always wanted to be one of those reporters who worked on the fantasy specialist newspaper round called Promise Watch. That's the one where you locate all of the promises made by governments (hundreds, maybe thousands) and find out how many they keep (maybe tens). So, just for the moment, I'm going to focus on just one of this government's promises.

And that's the one about jobs. When Tony Abbott was opposition leader, he promised that his government would create 1 million jobs. A million jobs in five years and 2 million in 10 years. As Jesse Pinkman may have said to Walter: ''That's a bold plan, Mr White.''

But, in the case of the young and fictional drug dealer in Breaking Bad, his judgment was perfectly accurate. And Abbott is once again hopelessly wrong.

We have two problems. One is that jobs are disappearing and not only from manufacturing. The second is that the Prime Minister and his Coalition are a bunch of job snobs. They think that jobs in manufacturing are a rung beneath those in services.

The first we can easily demonstrate through the slew of closures and the sacking, retrenchments and the redundancies across Australia, from Toyota to Holden to Qantas. The second we can demonstrate only through the language of the politician himself.

He said of workers at a joint news conference at Parliament House in December: ''Many of them will probably be liberated to pursue new opportunities.''


And: ''What I can say is that our job as a government is to build a stronger economy, a stronger economy that enables people, over time, to go from good jobs to better jobs,'' the Prime Minister said on the ABC's current affairs program AM in February.

But what constitutes liberation, Prime Minister? What constitutes a better job? Does the prospect of working in a factory or on a production line so nauseate you that you diminish the contribution these people make to our community?

I asked an expert on industrial restructuring what she thought of the prospects for workers in Australia. The news is dreadful - and will get worse unless this government institutes its own bold plan.

Sally Weller is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. For more than 20 years, she has been studying how to reconfigure the Australian workforce in a way that will benefit all of us - not just governments or employers, but the people who put Australia's economy together.

''The outcome for Ansett workers was very uneven,'' she said.

Even those employees who were made redundant after Ansett failed in 2001 had trouble getting jobs despite the health of the economy, she said. Because it wasn't about the economy, it was about which skills the workers had.

Jobs were particularly hard to find if the redundant worker was a little older, had English that wasn't top-notch or had a family so couldn't move.

The same is true now. Consider the story of one woman who was made redundant by Qantas last year. She'd worked for the airline for years.

She recalled how she would tell her friends she had the best job in the world: ''I was proud to say I worked for Qantas … it was like a family, you would always go above and beyond.''

But a year on from her redundancy, she cannot get a single interview. Prospective employers tell her that others have more experience, are more qualified. She is one of the lucky ones, in some respects, because her partner has a job in hospitality. Of all her friends who volunteered for or were forced to take redundancy, only two have jobs. But they are casual jobs. There is no future and no planning.

''I'm really sad, I was there for more than half my life,'' she said.

And she has a right to be more than sad if the only jobs available are unpredictable, poorly paid and in work that doesn't require the same skills.

Weller said any attempt to radically deregulate the Australian labour market must and will fail. She said the labour market in Australia has always been characterised by skills shortages - and that, when you deregulate the labour market, you get escalation of wages at the top end.

''We are seeing that quite clearly in parts of the economy and in places like airlines, where people have skills,'' she said.

''If I was an employer in an airline right now, I would want a regulated labour market to stop good people bidding up wages.''

As for the 1 million jobs (or does the Prime Minister mean 1 million part-time jobs in unskilled areas?), a brief word from Australian Institute director Richard Denniss: ''The Abbott government has been highly successful at liberating from their jobs particular workers in aviation, cars and food processing. What they are yet to do is to create a large number of opportunities for the liberated workers to fill.''

Yes, the Prime Minister went to the election promising 1 million new jobs.

And he's not even close to keeping up with the jobs we had before he was elected.

@jennaprice or email


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