The Guardian May 31, 2000


Save our State:
Unions to the rescue

by Richard Stone

South Australians are experiencing a marked economic decline. Part-time and 
casual work is spreading with unpredictable, irregular and insecure hours 
of work. At least a third of the female workforce is casual. The 
manufacturing sector has see a loss of 40,000 jobs during the last twenty 
years. The crisis continues. 

Announcements this year from Mitsubishi, of a further restructuring have 
added to fears that large scale redundancies will occur in their Tonsley 
and Lonsdale plants. As Mitsubishi is serviced by a large number of related 
industries the impact of such a development could remove thousands more 
South Australians from the workforce within the next few years.

Certain areas of SA are experiencing de-population. Adelaide, as the 
state's capital, has had a recognisable decline in population. Those able, 
including skilled workers and young people, move interstate for better 
opportunities and this acts as an obstacle to potential population growth.

Economic dislocation and the capitalist crisis have resulted in a 
proliferation of social problems. A recent Federal Government document 
produced by the University of Adelaide shows the appalling results of 
unemployment upon large numbers of people. 

A vast wealth and well-being divide is opening. Those at the lower end, are 
more than twice as likely to die from disease, accidents, poisonings and 
violence than the richest 20 per cent. Deaths through respiratory diseases 
are 2.38 times higher for the poorest 20 per cent of society.

Union plan

Against this backdrop of economic uncertainty the South Australian United 
Trades and Labor Council (UTLC) has launched a "Jobs First" campaign with a 
report from UTLC Secretary, Chris White. 

The report is a statement of basic principles that employment, for workers 
and the trade union movement, remains of fundamental importance.

It is also a demand that political leaders implement urgent policy changes 
as recognition that industry in SA has suffered disproportionately through 
changes to protection, restructuring and globalisation in the hands of the 
transnational corporations.

At the outset the report states; "SA's high unemployment is still at crisis 
level", and provides a detailed analysis of the present situation and need 
for immediate action.

Rejecting the free market arguments of decision-makers and neo-liberal 
economic rationalist thinking which has been the dominant force for two 
decades, the document puts forward the case that unemployment is created by 
the operation of free market mechanisms. 

It argues that there remains a strong case for government intervention in 
the economy. The key theme of the document is the demand for fairness 
within the workplace and social justice in the community.

"We do not believe that taking away long established workers' rights will 
create jobs". On privatisation it declares that "there is no evidence that 
more privatisation will create jobs" says the statement.

It puts forward the need to protect and develop companies in the 
manufacturing and production sectors and that greater effort is needed to 
retain industries, enterprises and full-time jobs. 

It is critical of the fact that in SA there is no government agency and 
business/union network for this purpose. Realistically it argues that co-
operative effort to protect and assist local industry is a priority.

Areas for development

Highlighting areas within the SA economy where industrial development is 
possible the document targets the vehicle, defence, electronics, 
engineering, information technology, wine production, food, culture, arts, 
fabric, tourism, timber trades and others where scope exists for renewed 
efforts.

It also focuses on SA's space industry project at Woomera, stating that 
development within this area would include accompanying industrial growth 
in related manufacturing and infrastructure. 

"We need renewed strategic industry policies. If just six per cent of all 
manufactured imports could be replaced by competitive local supply then 
100,000 new jobs could be created".

Importance of public sector

Emphasis is placed on the importance of public sector Federal and State 
infrastructure, public housing, training and community job schemes.

Concern is raised about the aging public sector workforce and failure to 
train sufficient people for the future, stressing the need for a minimum of 
2,500 places for trainees on the State Government Youth Training Scheme, 
with existing provision being widened to encompass the varied aspects of 
the public sector and the need to replace retiring workers. 

A special program to train a minimum of 200 information technology and 
multi-media personnel for full-time public sector positions and careers 
after training is outlined.

Public sector

"There has to be an increase in funds for schools, hospitals, rail, ports, 
roads, water, sewerage, power, communication and community services", the 
document states. Arguing that extra funding is essential, it says the 
expenditure is justifiable in that it will enable economic growth for the 
new century.

The document calls for new training programs with a union input and that 
"New skill centres can be funded to meet the future needs of industry. We 
should upgrade TAFE and increase apprenticeships".

Building industry

SA's building industry remains in a slump despite the desperate need for 
public housing. The document calls for increased spending for public 
housing with an urgent injection into the Housing Trust. Supporting 
increased funding for SA's Community Job Creation Schemes, the report 
proposes that the worst hit Adelaide suburbs and regional centres be 
targeted, with provision for the programs to be controlled by local 
government, local authorities, development boards, community sectors and 
trade unions.

Youth

The problems of youth unemployment and those workers of mature age who have 
experienced redundancy are raised. Mature aged workers, despite their 
skills and employment expertise, have extreme difficulty finding work.

Workplace democracy

Chris White highlighted the need for workplace democracy and employment 
security. His report suggests that traditional methods of industrial 
relations, including such time-honoured principles as consultation and co-
operative productivity agreements, remain of vital importance.

"Good industrial relations and occupational health and safety definitely 
lead to the growth and survival of enterprise. Improved skills, career 
paths and higher wages from collective bargaining are better alternatives 
to low wages, insecurity and exploitation."

Asked to comment by The Guardian, CPA General Secretary said that 
"Jobs First" is an excellent discussion document. The SA UTLC has done a 
service to the whole trade union movement by putting forward such a 
comprehensive statement and focussing attention of some of the wider 
issues. The implementation of such a program, which is not likely to win 
the applause of the big corporations however, would take Australia forward 
to a new kind of economics and a new kind of politics in the interests of 
the working people of Australia."

* * *
Copies of Jobs First, are available from: Chris White, Secretary, UTLC, Trades Hall, 11-16 South Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000. Tel: (08) 8212-3155; Fax: (08) 8231-9300.

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