A Job Guarantee is a federally funded, locally administered initiative to directly end involuntary unemployment and underemployment.9 Anyone with the right to work in Australia, would be able to accept employment in a publicly funded position at a living wage. Crucially, these jobs are not a workfare program. They are come with all the workplace rights of full-time employment: award wages, holiday leave, sick leave, and overtime.
In the same way people are entitled to a seat in a school until age 18, people should be entitled to a job after age 18. We don’t want to waste people’s potential and subject families and communities to the massive social, psychological, and economic damage unemployment brings.
Why do we need one?
Until the 1970s, providing every person with full-time, meaningful work was a core pursuit of the Australian government’s economic management.10 High levels of public investment drove industrial expansion, and a thriving public service prioritised equipping people with in-demand skills.11 In the 1980s, however, following the disastrous model of Thatcher and Reagan, the government abandoned its commitment to people in favour of deregulation and privatisation - drastically cutting our public service. In 1997 Australia became the first OECD nation to completely privatise our public employment services.12 And successive governments have since deliberately reframed unemployment as a personal failing, rather than the reality of being locked out of paid work.13
But the data tells a different story. Private corporations consistently fail to provide enough demand for people’s skills. Labour force statistics for the start of 2018 show that there were only 201,600 private sector jobs being advertised for the 725,200 people looking for paid, full-time work.14 That’s almost four unemployed Australians competing for every available job, without even taking into account the 1.1 million Australians who want more hours.15 Attempts by politicians to punish jobseekers into work by pushing income support payments well below the poverty line ignore this basic reality: corporations aren’t providing enough jobs.
We’re not reinventing the wheel. There’s so much good work to be done building stronger, better communities. We’re arguing that the government - already the single largest employer in the Australian economy - should do what private corporations can’t: ensure that nobody is left out or left behind.
What would people do?
As long as we need public services, we need people to provide those services.
Imagine living in a world where our transport network didn’t run into constant delays due to understaffing. Or where you could call Centrelink and not have to wait hours for someone to answer. Or where aged care and childcare were offered as plentiful and affordable public services - and our parks and public spaces were kept clean. Imagine if registered charities could offer government-funded jobs to people, instead of relying on volunteers to do the important work feeding the hungry, restoring degraded land and rivers, and giving shelter to people fleeing family violence. Imagine if our crumbling roads were maintained, and our kids went to school in proper buildings instead of stifling demountables.
Everywhere you look there are opportunities to connect the untapped potential of people with the unmet needs of the community.
The current boundaries of what is considered “productive” labour were set by capitalists, colonialists, and patriarchs. By separating the offer of employment from the profitability of employment, a Job Guarantee provides an opportunity to radically redefine those boundaries. We can remunerate people properly for currently unpaid labour, caring for homes, and families, and land. We can end exploitative work-for-the-dole schemes like the CDP, and provide permanent funding directly to indigenous communities. This could mean a properly funded expansion of already successful projects that involve preservation of culture and the land.
How does a Job Guarantee support people?
The strength of a Job Guarantee is that it works to support people and communities through periods of economic transition. During economic booms, people will more easily find private-sector employment – equipped with better skills and more confidence from their time in public employment. And when the private sector cuts jobs during a recession, or an industry declines, the government can enlist people’s skills to meet community needs. By earning a living wage for meaningful work, people will not be forced to live below the poverty line. Their increased disposable incomes will in turn support and stabilise local shopkeepers, retail workers, and small businesses during difficult economic times.
Jobs could be flexibly designed to accommodate people with different physical, intellectual or behavioural needs. We can measure the economic gain, but what’s immeasurable is the feeling of dignity, certainty and empowerment this could bring to millions of Australians and their families. This is one of the reasons a Job Guarantee may be preferable to a basic income, it’s a powerful framework of social inclusion that allows us to broaden our understanding of valuable work. As our society changes the government can adjust working conditions directly, by shortening the working week, or improving other entitlements.
The bargaining hand of workers would also be strengthened by a Job Guarantee. The threat of unemployment, so often used to corner workers into accepting an unfair deal, would be gone, empowering private sector workers to negotiate better wages and more dignified conditions. Furthermore, private sector employers would have to at least match the conditions of public service jobs or attract workers through other benefits.
9Pavlina Tchnerva (2018), “The Job Guarantee: Design, Jobs, Implementation”, Levy Economics Institute, Working Paper 902; Victor Quirk et al. (2006) “The Job Guarantee in Practice”, Centre for Full Employment and Equity, Working Paper No. 06-15.
10Ellen Carlson & William Mitchell (2001), Unemployment: the Tip of the Iceberg, CAER/UNSW Press, Sydney, p193-218.
11Herbert Cole Coombs (1994), “From Curtin to Keating: The 1945 and 1994 White Papers on Employment, ANU Press.
13Warwick Smith (2017), “Unemployment Policy in Australia: A Brief History”, Per Capita.
14Australian Bureau of Statistics, Job Vacancies, Australia cat. no. 6354.0; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Labour Force, Australia, Time Series Spreadsheet, cat. no. 6202.0
15Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Labour Force, Australia, Time Series Spreadsheet, cat. no. 6202.0