The unemployed of Australia have so far been amazingly docile, too oppressed by their loss of self-esteem and by the demeaning poverty of the dole system to attempt to fight for their basic rights. Without the network of the big unions, like the transport workers for example, who can cripple the country in a few days, they have no easy means of collaborating.
But for how much longer can we expect generations of unemployed to continue, without a murmur of dissent, in this appalling life without purpose or dignity? Generations of young people study so hard at school to pass their VCE, spending hours of time on projects and assignments that previous generations would never have dreamed of.
Their aspirations are stimulated by continuous advice and information about career options. But after successfully completing a very comprehensive and carefully planned thirteen years of study, these young people in their thousands leave school not to begin on the exciting path of career development and the prospect of earning money but rather to eking out an existence on the dole.
Their hard work, especially in country areas, results in nothing but crushed egos as they compete for the few jobs on offer. A fast food chain opens a store and the queues for interviews for a handful of menial jobs stretch down the street and round the corner, and interviews span two days. A restaurant offers school-leavers unpaid training and after days of unpaid work selects one or two of them telling them that their slogan is "run and have fun". This is typical of the job situation for young people in country areas today.
Wealthy old men, and people who understand nothing of the misery of unemployment and of being obliged to live on social security, make pompous statements about "work for the dole" schemes; "This is the opportunity for youth to give something back to the community". How easily we fall for such glib jargon. "Give something back..."!
What has the community given these young people in the first place?!
No recognition for their 13 years of toil at school and no hope for a future. How outrageous to suggest that they should "give something back" to a community which has given them nothing. Why should they display gratitude for a miserable hand-out supplied by the people whose work they should be sharing in?
It is not only the teenagers who suffer, although theirs is the greatest suffering. Their parents have in most cases sacrificed so much to ensure that their children have as good an education as possible; information nights, school fundraising, school concerts, extra-curricular lessons, competitions, excursions, extra tuition, parent-teacher interviews, books, uniforms etc etc; everything done in the faith that their children will be well-equipped for their lives. But what is at the end of all this mammoth effort? A dream turned into a nightmare.
While unemployed young people spend their days writing endless letters, attending interviews for jobs theyll never be offered, filling out the dole forms inquiring into every aspect of their lives and trying to maintain a brave face and some dignity in the face of all these issues, the "fat cats", the 80% of the possible workforce who are fully employed, go about their daily life complaining about the taxes they have to pay to support the dole "bludgers".
But at the same time that they salve their consciences by using words implying the unemployed dont want to work, they are also acutely conscious that there is indeed a large amount of unemployed "out there" ready to take their job should they not be perceived to be performing as expected. And in this climate of fear employers remove the privileges which unions fought to obtain.
Tea breaks, even lunch-breaks, become a thing of the past. The thirty-five hour week in 1998, after thirty years of frenetic computerisation of every imaginable work scenario, should by now be thirty, or twenty-five. If the work had been properly shared among the workforce (and computers), if workers had not been retrenched and school-leavers shunned, everyone would by now be enjoying a shorter working week with the long-promised more leisure time.
However instead of a thirty or twenty-five hour week and full employment, the working week has become, for huge numbers of workers, more like forty or forty-five or even "open-ended". It is cheaper and more profitable for employers to squeeze an extra 10 hours from an existing employee than to employ another and pay the subsequent extra expenses. Training which was once undertaken even in a limited way by employers is no longer offered. Not so long ago a new employee might be given a week to become accustomed to the demands of a new job but today they are expected to be fully productive from Day 1. School leavers dont have much chance in such an environment.
The problems and obstacles preventing full employment must be removed. The big picture must be addressed for the benefit of the whole country. The full employment (17 - 19 year olds) of 1972 is not so very long ago. Generations build on the strengths of previous generations and the strength of the country depends on the employment of our youth.
Workers with 35 + hours are working too much; they hold the lions share of a force which no longer can offer 35 hours to everyone. The hours in the working week must drop again - this time not to improve the lot of the employed as in the past (48 to 40 and 40 to 35) but to give a life to unemployed youth and hope for the future of this nation.
It is completely unacceptable that a proportion of the workforce must accept that there will be no jobs for them, especially young adults. If this situation continues the whole nation must sooner or later pay a very high price.
"Job creation" is a strange hot-air expression, which crept into the dictionary of election-jargon of politicians a decade or two ago and has proven to be as meaningless today as it first seemed to me then. Proper distribution of the tasks that exist is the only way this country can function.... but what party can risk losing the vote of the 80 % of employed workers ? We need politicians with vision, but it takes voters with vision to support them.
Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870 Australia