While the full effects of the world financial crisis are yet to be fully felt in the Australian economy we are already seeing dire predictions for the local job market. Economists are predicting that unemployment in Australia will be pushed towards one million next year. Even this conservative estimate is effectively a doubling of the current unemployment rate!
Services and manufacturing jobs will be hit the hardest. In the last year we have already seen a loss of jobs in these areas, nowhere more so than in the manufacturing industry. Last year thousands of workers in the car industry, including the auto components sector, lost their jobs.
The mining and resources industry, once touted as the powerhouse of the Australian economy, has also seen a slowing of production as the demand for coal and iron ore fall. Rio Tinto recently announced it would cull 14,000 jobs from its international workforce with 630 workers in Australia already given notice of job losses.
Alcoa, the aluminium giant, announced in January the slashing of 15,000 jobs internationally. Although as yet no jobs will be lost in Australia, they have failed to guarantee no further reductions in the workforce. Analysts have predicted that more cuts are inevitable with BHP Billiton the next in line. In the last 6 months of 2008, 4400 mining jobs were lost. Similarly construction has slowed significantly as the cut in interest rates has failed to increase domestic building demand.
The Rudd Government has slammed the mining and construction unions for seeking significant pay rises, but decent pay is essential for workers to avoid repossessions, to pay ever-rising bills, mortgages and credit cards. The flow on effects of the economic crisis through job losses or pay cuts will affect every facit of the lives of working class people.
Those already receiving the minimum wage may continue to be worse off as Ian Harper, the Fair Pay Commissioner, announced last month that job protection is more important than a pay rise. The Rudd Government and the likes of Harper would have us believe that if we keep wages low business is likely to keep people employed throughout the coming period.
Harper himself stated that we have “the worst of both worlds in Australia” with rising inflation and rising unemployment. By refusing to increase wages workers are losing money and with inflation rising are seeing their wages go backwards. The idea that businesses looking to cut costs will save an employee who they pay $26 dollars less a week is a fantasy.
Now is the time to start the fight back against job losses, wage freezes and cuts. When cuts are announced companies must be forced to open their books to workers to show where all their profits have gone. It’s a disgrace the many workers face redundancies when Australia’s top 300 companies (which include Rio Tinto, BHP and Alcoa) paid an average of $2.97 million to their executives in 2007. Unions must demand a 35 hour week for workers with no loss of pay. In doing so work would be shared more equally and would ease unemployment.
Capitalism has failed working class people time and time again. The demands of accountability and saving jobs must be linked to the need to change society. Only socialism offers a real opportunity for people to be secure in employment while at the same time maintaining decent wages and conditions.
By SP reporters