Forcing job seekers to move is just bad policy

Greg Jericho shows (The Guardian 11 March 2021), how the claim made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the unemployed refusing to take on rural work and accusing the unemployed of not wanting to work, does not square up with the facts. This is a dangerous scapegoating to serve the political agenda of the government and its backers

Scott Morrison’s suggestion might play well on talkback radio, but it ignores the fact there is just not enough well-paid work

Scott Morrison

Photo by Dean Lewins/AAP: Prime minister Scott Morrison suggested he hears stories every day of employers in regional areas unable to fill jobs.

The prime minister has taken another turn putting the boot into unemployed Australians, suggesting they should be forced to take jobs in rural areas or face losing their jobseeker payments. Such a policy would do little to improve anything, and pointedly fails to address the major issue of falling full-time, ongoing jobs.

On Tuesday, speaking at the AFR Business Summit in Sydney, Scott Morrison said: “Every day we hear the stories of employers, especially in regional areas, unable to fill positions. It’s got way past anecdotal.”

It is just anecdotal, of course. Take the minister for employment, Michaelia Cash, who told reporters last month that “you often hear, though, employers saying, ‘Joe applied for a job. He was qualified for the job’, or she, ‘and they said no’.”

It seems the biggest data set associated with this phenomenon is the number of people in the government saying they have heard it exists.

In reality, as was revealed last month, 10,500 unemployed people in the six months to February had taken up a job fruit picking and a further 3,500 had applied but been knocked,

But hey, why bother with figures when you are hearing so many things …

Last month, when the government announced its meagre increase in the jobseeker base rate, it also announced increased mutual obligations. There was nothing that suggested unemployed people would need to take up work in rural areas.

But on Tuesday Morrison suggested that the government was pursuing two responses to fix the problem he is hearing about so often.

One was to look at changes to temporary work visas, and the second was “to strengthen the mutual obligation requirements for jobseekers receiving the jobseeker payment”.

He asserted: “If there is a job available, and you are able to do that job, then it is reasonable for taxpayers to expect that you will take it up, rather than continue to receive benefits. And if you don’t, then payment should be withdrawn.”

It is an extraordinary link given that it would drastically change the way in which unemployed people are now expected to seek work.

You actually have to apply for permission to move when on jobseeker. Moving to a place with lower employment opportunities can result in a suspension of payments.

And most rural areas have lower employment opportunities than the cities. This is no shock. There’s a reason cities have more people than rural areas – that’s where the jobs are.

And while the pandemic and shutdown of high-employing businesses such as food services and hotels has seen some relative increase in unemployment in cities compared with rural areas, what remains consistent is that people are much more likely to be unemployed for longer in rural areas.

In no state is the median duration of unemployment longer in the capital city area than in the rest of the state.

In New South Wales, for example, all rural areas have longer unemployment duration times than those in greater Sydney.

The same is mostly true in Queensland, where aside from the eastern suburbs of Brisbane, the duration of unemployment is higher in rural areas, regardless of what the unemployment rate may be..

And yet aside from being a terrible policy that treats unemployed people as little more than faceless data points able to be shifted around the place with no regard for family, friendships or responsibilities, the problem with employment at the moment is not in getting people into temporary work.

The Morrison government would like to declare the economic battle is won.

The latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the number of main jobs (i.e., either people’s only job, or their highest paying job) is still more than 2% below what it was in December.

By contrast, there is now a record number of jobs that are a person’s second (or more) job.

In the last half of 2020, the number of jobs increased by 655,600, yet a third of them were “secondary jobs”. That is not a healthy sign, given only about 7% of all jobs are secondary ones.

It suggests there is not a lot of well-paid work around, and a lot of people – indeed more than ever before – need to work two or more jobs.

Suggesting that the problem is unemployed people who are not willing to work might play well on talkback radio but it does nothing to address the actual problems of employment and the economy.

People live where the chances for work are best and, as Australia’s entire history has shown, people are much more likely to move to the cities to get work than move to rural areas.

But while there has been some good news on the job front, the major problem remains not temporary fruit picking work or even short-term casual labour of any type. The problem is ongoing, full-time work.

And the lack of that is not going to be solved by blaming unemployed Australians.

1 Comment on "Forcing job seekers to move is just bad policy"

  1. When people start picking fruit, they are lucky to pick more than two bins a day. For example, strip picking pears. Strip picking, taking ALL usable fruit off the trees, is the fastest and easiest way pick pears. Two bins a day related to about $60 per day for hard work, and getting multitudes of little holes and scratches on your arms, a sore back from the wearing of the pickers bag.

    Gut-busting work, up and down ladders all day is very hard for many people to get used to. It continues in the heat, the cold, the drizzly rain the strong winds. It can be very unpleasant work at times.

    Importantly, IT IS NOT WORK SUITABLE FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE. Forcing people unsuited to that work into climbing ladders repeatedly, for instance, is recipe for work injuries and abuse of the worker.

    I picked for several seasons in my younger days. It took about two seasons to get to my fastest picking speed, which is about 3.5 to 4.5 bins a day. Gung pickers will pick 15 to 20+ bins. But gung pickers are very few and far between. In those first years, I earned about $50 to $60 a DAY, for physically hard work. About half a age for 10 hour days.

    It is no different today.

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