Just what are the Coalition promising to do to increase job security? The answer is very little and there is an important reason why, writes Charlie Donnelly.
“If you want to hang on to your job and have job security you will not be guaranteed that job security under Labor because everything they say and do is pointing the economy in the wrong direction. It is only the Coalition that is going to make the decisions that get the economy back on track.” – Joe Hockey
It doesn’t surprise me that the Liberal Party is attempting to abolish a price on carbon, lower corporate tax rates and get rid of the mining tax. What does surprise me is the manner in which those policy positions are being justified and communicated to the electorate. Name a Liberal Party policy and you’ll find a justification connected to job security.
The Carbon Tax: “…if you vote for the Coalition the carbon tax goes – that is good for households, it is good for your job security.”- Tony Abbott.
Slashing corporate tax rates: “We are today reducing company tax so that your job security increases.” – Tony Abbott.
Abolishing the mining tax: “I’m so determined to improve peoples’ job security by abolishing the mining tax.” – Tony Abbott.
Even when it comes to equal marriage, Tony Abbott would not commit to a conscience vote because the Coalition would focus “on things like reducing cost-of-living pressure and increasing job security“.
To be fair, I haven’t yet picked up any direct connections between cracking down on “illegal boat arrivals” and “job security”. Unless something changes, and soon, the use of this “job security” rhetoric will form part of successful Coalition election strategy.
As a campaign tactic it’s effective because it speaks to the experiences and concerns of the vast majority of Australians who are out of the labour market attempting to get in, who are struggling with underemployment and/or insecure forms of employment, or are one of the lucky few in permanent full-time employment but are anxious about losing their position.
For now this rhetoric is working. Recent polling carried out by Qdos Research on behalf of the National Union of Workers highlights just how critical job security is as an issue for Coalition voters in marginal seats. Across the seats of Deakin and Brisbane, 75 per cent of Liberal voters think that casualisation is a problem. Moreover, 41 per cent of Liberal voters in these seats indicated that they would vote for a party that took strong action on secure jobs. A significant segment of Coalition support is dependent on being associated with positively impacting on job security.
This makes an examination of Coalition industrial relations policy important. Just what are the Coalition promising to do to increase job security? The answer is very little and there is an important reason why. The Coalition’s industrial relations policy is based on a single, simple belief that increasing corporate profitability leads to more secure jobs. As Joe Hockey put it on the first day of the election campaign, “the only way to have job security is if the business you are working in is profitable”.
But there is a clear contradiction in this statement. Today there are many, many highly profitable Australian companies employing people in increasing numbers in insecure jobs. They are employed on casual contracts year after year, on short-term contracts and through casual third party employment.
The NUW represents workers at warehouses for Coles and Woolworths. Last month Woolworths announced a yearly profit of $2.3 billion and Coles $1.5 billion. Yet these two supermarket giants now employ many of their warehouse workers casually through third party labour hire companies. Many must wait for a text message each day telling them if they have work. They have no holiday pay or sick leave and never know how much money they will earn each week. Coles and Woolworths’ huge profits have not led to job security for these workers.
It’s a situation workers across the country face. Increasingly in Australian offices, on worksites and in government departments the workforce is being casualised. Since the 1980s, Australia’s economy has grown and grown, but so has casual employment. A quarter of all Australian workers are now employed casually.
This isn’t even factoring in the blooming of a plethora of other insecure working arrangements from labour-hire, third party outsourcing, fixed-term contracts and subcontracting. It’s clear that corporate profits and insecure work have risen together. Liberal voters know this. In the polling referred to above, 53 per cent of Liberal voters thought employers could reduce the use of casual jobs and short-term contracts but they are usually more concerned about saving money. For these workers, Coalition policy will not increase their job security. The Coalition cannot help these workers while its policy is based simply on increasing corporate profitability.
Therein lies the contradiction at the centre of the Coalition’s popularity – it pledges to deliver outcomes that are pushed farther away by the policy-making means it will employ. This job security rhetoric will turn into a point of instability for the next Coalition government when it fails to deliver the job security millions of casual workers in Australia crave. It will also do very little for the many more Australians who are likely to be pushed into the growing army of insecure workers.