Gillard on unemployment, and more ...

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Gillard on unemployment, and more ...

In an interview this week, Deputy Prime Minister and IR Minister Julia Gillard commented on a number of matters including: unemployment figures for February; the equal pay case; industrial disputes; building cop legislation; and labour force figures.

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In an interview this week, Deputy Prime Minister and IR Minister Julia Gillard commented on a number of matters including: unemployment figures for February; the equal pay case; industrial disputes; building cop legislation; and labour force figures.
 
Here are some extracts from her comments.
 
‘[Unemployment figures for February]
 
... unemployment figures for February … figures show is that unemployment has been steady at 5.3 per cent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revised downwards last month’s unemployment figure. So last month unemployment was at 5.2 per cent, so we’ve got a slight, 0.1 per cent increase to 5.3.
 
What these figures are also telling us is that there were 400 jobs created in February. These figures are showing us that there has been a growth in full time jobs of 11,400, and part time jobs have gone down by 11,000. There’s also been a slight growth in the number of hours worked. I think what these figures are telling us is that this is a steady result. We are seeing employers move to taking on more full time employees and reducing part time work. We’re seeing a slight growth in hours …
 
I would make the point, though, that as we look at these numbers there are 615,800 Australians who are unemployed. There are 128,000 Australians who are no longer in work from September 2008. So we know that there are 128,000 Australians who have lost their jobs and been added to the unemployment queue during this period.
 
That means that there’s more work to do. More work to do to make sure that Australians around the country get the benefits of work. More work to do to ensure that those Australians, the 128,000 of them, who have lost their jobs during the days of the global financial crisis and global recession get a new work opportunity. More to do to extend the benefits of work to the more than 600,000 Australians who are unemployed.
 
[Equal pay case]
 
… Can you explain exactly how that test case is going to work, what the process is, and how that will ultimately achieve closing that gap between the wage differences?
 
Julia Gillard: I’ll do my best. Obviously the processes here are in the hands of the industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia. Fair Work Australia will hear this case. Our job as a government is to get the laws right and we’ve done that through the Fair Work Act. The Fair Work Act includes a principle that work of equal value should be equally paid. That is, it’s a broader pay equity principle than we’ve had in national laws in the past.
 
Using that principle the relevant unions will seek to make out the case that in the community and social services sector work has historically been undervalued because it has been viewed, in part, as women’s work.
 
A comparable case was run in Queensland under a similar principle and that did result in the Queensland industrial umpire adjusting wages for workers in the social and community services sector.
 
As a government we too will be there in front of the industrial umpire. We will be there to bring to the industrial umpire all the information we believe it needs to inform itself as it works through this decision. Obviously with the resources of government we are able to bring more information to the table than the applicant unions or employers may be able to do themselves.
 
This is an important thing — the first pay equity case under the new Fair Work Act. The Fair Work Act is a fair system for working women, and it’s a stark contrast to Work Choices where every piece of information we ever got about Work Choices told us that it was disproportionately working women who got ripped off, and of course that’s the industrial relations system that Tony Abbott believes in and has reindorsed as his policy.
 
[Industrial disputes]
 
... industrial disputes have risen pretty sharply, highest since 2006, early 2006. Has Fair Work Australia made it easier to conduct industrial disputes than the Work Choices regime?
 
[Editor's note: For the December quarter 2009, there were 81 disputes, 9 more than in the September quarter 2009. The number of employees involved in industrial disputes in the December quarter 2009 was 27,000, an increase from 18,000 in the September quarter 2009. There were 44,700 working days lost due to industrial disputation in the December quarter 2009, an increase from 29,100 in the September quarter 2009. The Transport, postal and warehousing industry accounted for 15,700 (35%) of the total number of working days lost in the December quarter 2009. In the December quarter 2009, New South Wales accounted for 15,100 (34%) of working days lost. Western Australia had the highest number of working days lost per thousand employees (7.0) for the quarter. See the ABS website.]
 
Julia Gillard: Under the Fair Work system we’ve got a system focused on enterprise bargaining, focused on parties bargaining together in good faith, and the only time that people can take protected industrial action is when they are genuinely trying to seek agreement and bargaining for a new agreement. Industrial action beyond those circumstances is not lawful and I’ve made it very clear that anybody breaching the rules should expect to feel the full force of the law.
 
When we look at industrial actions statistics we’ve got to be fairly careful to look at the number of agreements that have come up for bargaining during the relevant period, and we’ve also got to make sure we’re being clear about bargaining in the Fair Work system as opposed to bargaining in state systems. For example, in past industrial action figures we’ve seen the outcomes of wages disputes by teachers and they are being bargained in state systems overwhelmingly.
 
[Paid parental leave scheme]
 
...will the Government be flexible in dealing with the minor parties? Is it willing to give some ground to improve that scheme in order to get its legislation?
 
Julia Gillard: … we obviously believe as a government that this scheme is the right scheme for this nation’s future. It’s been a scheme long in design. We went to the 2007 election with a commitment to Australian families, particularly to Australian women, that we’d ask the Productivity Commission to assist with the design of the scheme. We did that, we received the report, we consulted following the report and we have brought forward this scheme which we believe will be of great benefit to working families, particularly working women.
 
And so we’re going to say to the Senate, pass this bill ...
 
We’re sticking with what we’ve designed …
 
[Building cop legislation]
 
... on the Senate, is the building cop legislation now out the window before the election?
 
Julia Gillard: The building legislation — I presume you’re referring to the legislation to abolish the ABCC and to replace it with a new tough cop on the beat — that legislation is still listed on the Senate program. My understanding from our senators is Senate business does seem to move very slowly as a result of the obstructionist factors that my colleagues talked about yesterday.
 
Consequently I’m not able to tell you when that’s going to get up for debate on the list given the very, very slow way in which the Senate is moving ..
 
[Labour force figures]
 
… on the labour force figures, one of the interesting things here is that in the last two years, comparing this February with two years ago, the number of teenagers at school has gone up by 64,000 and the number in work has gone down by 42,000.
 
Do you have any insights as to whether that is sort of just something that’s been forced on people or whether that is kids making a deliberate decision that they want more schooling?
 
Julia Gillard: I think the truth is it’s a mix of those two factors. As a government, and in partnership with state and territory governments around the country, we’ve got an aim to increase the number of teenagers who finish Year 12 at school. Some will do that in an academic pathway, some will do that in a vocational education and training pathway, and we’ve been working with state and territory governments to build those VET pathways for students.
 
One of the reasons we’re so determined to deliver our Trades Training Centres in Schools program is with modern capital and equipment that becomes a greater possibility for schools to offer real high quality VET training than with the capital that many of them struggle with now. So there’s a long term trend here. We’re trying to increase retention rates and schools and school systems are on a strategy to do that.
 
At the same time I think we are seeing some evidence of the cyclical effect that the economy is feeling and teenage employment is feeling from the global financial crisis and global recession …’
 
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