Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mucking in the social swamp

Yesterday it was - You don’t have to be nuts, but…. I did more research and became more depressed. The facts, the researched facts, are more horrid than I could have imagined. But then today, courtesy of the Melbourne Age I was set on yet another path: 'Razor gang' calls for ideas

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner is inviting ideas from the public, saying yesterday that the Government's "razor gang" had started looking for a second round of cuts, targeting the processes and programs of government. He said there were always pressures for new spending, and "we would welcome any suggestions or savings proposals from anybody in the general community".

Oh I had an idea, something that has been annoying me and others for years, so I started on another research trip. Even though unemployment is an economic tool, expanded and contracted according to need, governments still make victims of the unemployed.

Australia has a very low ‘official’ unemployment rate at the moment, approaching the historically acceptable historic unemployable figure of 2%. But at the same time we are paying somewhere around $1 billion to a group of commercial job placement facilitators.

First up it’s worth looking at what unemployment really means:

“Australia adopts the standard international definition of unemployment: people are unemployed if they did not work for at least one (paid) hour in the previous week, were actively seeking work and were able to accept a job in the next week if it were available.” Professor Sue Richardson

But then when we get the billion dollar spent on this ‘problem’:

Research Paper no. 15 2007–08 A review of developments in the Job Network

Australia has enjoyed strong economic growth for over 16 years and the nation’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in around 30 years. In this context of strong labour market conditions and a buoyant economy, job seekers with minimal barriers to employment tend to find work readily, with little or no assistance from Australia’s main employment service provider, the Job Network. Increasingly, then, the Job Network is being asked to meet the needs of difficult-to-place job seekers and the long-term unemployed. “

Talk about smoke and bloody mirrors! I am working on a submission to the Razor Gang, and even without access to the actual costing of the dubious Job Network program I’m suspecting there is more than just a half billion saving, there is a very real potential for social benefits.

Governments become so tied up in justifying their own agendas they rarely see the problems or the potential remedies for many issues. John Howard, cynically, drove a volunteer program. He called it ‘work for the dole’ (unemployment benefit). Accidentally he created a social program with some real benefits. Between volunteers and the non-profit sector in Australia there is an exciting prospect of actually focusing on the real problems.


lindsaylobe said...

I think there is both the potential for savings and to provide a more humanistic solution for the long term unemployed. One of the more distasteful aspects of new work for the long term unemployed I think is for the occasional discrimination against such workers who can be at the mercy of Employers. Mindful of their low status they are some Employers who offer sub standard opportunities with unrealistic expectations under the guise they’re seeking to help out such group. I think any person who has long term unemployed needs a highly supportive initial environment until such time they regain their lost confidence. The current providers aren’t always able to handle these positions very well, whereas the not for profit hopefully might be able through an initial volunteering programme able to ease those back into the workforce into a more caring and supportive way.Most already have an army of volunteers who need to be supervised. Best wishes

Cart said...

Lindsay, thanks for some more clues about how to frame this argument. The only issue I question, and that comes back to definitions, is the blanket ‘not for profit’ label. We both know some of the current providers are broadly considered not for profit, yet the program is strongly based on profit motive.
Providers are given monetary incentive for various aspects of their service provision, and operatives receive bonuses for their part in the process. Part of my claim is that these providers will also gladly accept payment for work they do not carry out.
The level of not for profit groups we are aiming at are surely the ones who already look at measurable outcomes beyond any cash benefit. Certainly key operatives need to be compensated, but the organisations I deal with the operatives, given a living wage, put the emphasis on outcomes.
My other big problem with this is the lack of transparency on the financial side. I simply can’t find any source of what these current providers are given, financially, for their dubious efforts. No doubt it as classed as commercially sensitive information, but surely transparency on an issue like this is vital.

enigma4ever said...

( Razor Gang...wow, that is not very encouraging...I do like that they are trying to save money...I have a question...How much of what they do is there paper- have they totally gone internet- that is one way that all beauracy could save money...just thinking outside the box...) okay back to the article..

enigma4ever said...

( and btw the unemployment lowest in blah blah...boy and I thought Bushco had the spin doctors....oye)

lindsaylobe said...

It was reported by Access Economics yesterday infrastructure bottlenecks cost us a$17 billion over the past five years, driven by the skills shortage in the resources sector!!
The average rate of pay in the resources sector is now well over $ 100K, and there is even a shortage of cleaners who will earn around $ 90K pa –The resources demand is going to last for some time, and although not a big employer of labour I think we could be investing more in the unemployed and helping facilitate cheap fares to go to Old and WA (especially from the regional centers where there is less industrial opportunities). The training could be done by the not for profit sector and yes you could do most of it on the Internet enigma. I spoke to someone from Coffs Harbor some time ago that already runs a national skills resources centre from Coffs Harbour and employs a large number of contractors throughout the country, without the need to visit demand centres.
Best wishes

Cart said...

Lindsay, if I understand you correctly you are saying re-skilling is part of the community based equation. I realise the need for retraining in various areas, though having done my time a cleaner the issues are more to attitude than training, regardless of the compensation.
Even so, I have serious doubts about the effectiveness of a purely net based retraining, just as we both know that the various ‘further education’ options are seriously flawed. For the latter, teaching regimes which insist that style is superior to outcomes, common in the further education system, are doomed to suffer a high level of drop outs fro mature students.
For the former and my own observations, there are simply not enough people to fill potential infrastructure development jobs who have the relevant computing skills or even access. In fact within my own local ‘Job Network’ catchment area turning these positions into reality seems to be a process doomed to failure.
I should point out that the cost of living in one of these boom areas, never mind relocating, is prohibitive. I have a retired brother living in inland SE Qld who is already looking for a town further west because his council rates will bury him. At last he can make a killing on the house sale when the mining starts.
But from Port, or even Coffs, the nearest training centre for many of the heavy equipment jobs is in Newcastle. Queensland industry is actually favouring women doing a lot of the heavy machinery work anyway. You could say it’s a mine field.
Still, if there is a way to add re-skilling to the mix I would find it more than appropriate. Certainly a $17 billion gain for the country is more impressive than a half billion saving.

D.K. Raed said...

A 2% unemployment rate sounds good, until you consider what it doesn't include. Our "long-term unemployed" don't figure at all in our official unemployment rate. After 13-weeks on state unemployment lists and another 13-weeks (I think) on Fed unemployment lists, they are no longer considered unemployed. So, officially we have something like a 5% unemployment rate -- good times (cough, wheez)!

Do you have a lot of Temp Agencies there? Employers here use them for part-time work. They kind of fill the gap for some unemployed people until they can find better more permanent positions. Unfortunately, many employers use them too extensively, instead just filling a position by hiring a specific person. But the original intent was a sound one and might be of interest in bridging the gap between full-time permanent employment and having to be "on the dole".

(going further off-topic): Most of our Temp Agencies are private, profit-based. But the fed govt used to operate one called "Manpower" that was non-profit. They tended to place a lot of ex-convicts in part-time labor positions. I don't know if they are still in existence, but if they are, I bet they've changed their name.

Cart said...

DK, I’m afraid that we can no longer identify true employment rates because of progressively inbuilt distortions.
We have a system of government funded outfits called the Job Network. It fascinates me to watch them put people into temp or part time situations of very low paid ‘cash in hand’ work. The tax free aspect might be an incentive if the marginal tax free threshold was well below the current $6000.
It fascinates me even more that these organisations can place people in essential illegal work situations and still claim a work placement payment from the government. Obviously there is an unspoken deal there somewhere, but it is clearly unsustainable from a work position.