Mar 9, 2004

AM – Casual Employment

AM – Casual Employment

Tuesday 9 March 2004

TONY EASTLEY: The Government and the Opposition are shaping up to clash on employment in the lead-up to a Federal election. Labor wants to improve conditions for casual workers but a new employment study shows its plan could be at the expense of the unemployed.

The Government argues that casual employment is a stepping-stone to higher-paying and permanent jobs, so if employers have to pay more for casual workers they may baulk at employing them and the unemployed will ultimately miss out.

Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The progress of nearly 40,000 unemployed people was tracked by the Commonwealth Employment Department over almost two years.

Employment Services Minister Mal Brough says the message is clear.

MAL BROUGH: Go out there, if there’s a job offered to you, if it’s part-time, if it’s casual, if it’s even low-paid, then you are giving yourself the very, very best chance of getting higher paid work and more hours by taking that job.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Also under the microscope was the performance of government employment programs and work for the dole.

MAL BROUGH: So to know that they’ve actually earned more money, that they’ve earned more hours, and I guess, become more independent, just shows that the interventions that the Government has been buying have been working, and that they work better over time.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Mr Brough’s opposite number, Anthony Albanese, dismisses the Government’s good news message. He says the latest survey, up to May 2002, is out of date.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

The Government is desperate. It’s relying upon an internal departmental report in a job network mach 2. What we know is we’re now in job network mach 3, and the system isn’t working: the modelling was wrong, the IT system has been a disaster, we know that job seekers are complaining, we know that job network providers are demanding an immediate cash injection if they’re not going to go under.

And here the Government is, talking about an old system that’s out of date and whose findings are pretty irrelevant to what’s happening to the unemployed and the job network system today.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And the welfare sector says the jury is still out on how effective the new job network is in getting people enough work to get them off benefits.

The Government meanwhile, is using the study to warn that Labor’s plan to improve conditions for casual workers will be at the expense of jobs for the unemployed. Mal Brough says casual employment is a stepping-stone to higher paying and permanent jobs.

MAL BROUGH: There is one embuggerance to this, or potential embuggerance, and that is the Labor Party’s attitude of saying that the full suite of conditions of employment should apply to people in casual and part-time work.

Now, if that was to occur, what we could see happen here is the very first rung on the ladder of opportunity removed for many of our unemployed people – that is, getting into casual work, low-paid jobs. If you remove that opportunity, that rung of the ladder, they won’t go on to be fully functioning members of society because they haven’t had a start.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Labor insists a voluntary scheme for casual workers to negotiate permanency with employers won’t hurt the job prospects of the unemployed.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

There’s no evidence that it would make casual jobs more expensive for employers. In fact, there’s a fair bit of evidence that by converting those jobs to full time jobs, to permanent jobs ten what would occur is over a period of time, less expense to employers, because you’d have less turnover of employees, and more certainty.

TONY EASTLEY: And that was Labor’s Anthony Albanese, and AM is still searching for a true and accurate definition of Mal Brough’s "embuggerance".