The Most Important Election Issue No One's Talking About

13 August 2013
From the "just when you thought people couldn't get any worse" files, yesterday I stumbled across an article about a woman pompously declaring that as none of the parties running for election had addressed her most crucial issue - health - to her satisfaction, she would be placing an informal vote at the upcoming election, handing in a blank ballot paper. She wouldn't give any party her vote because in her view, none of them deserved it. Goodness me. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised; considering the Liberal party have for years run the election slogan "It's about you", it was inevitable that we would see people treating voting not as a right and duty, but an activity to be completed only for their own pleasure.

As ever I'm looking forward to voting myself, even though I haven't heard any of the parties put forward any policies addressing what I consider to be the most vital issue - job security. Oh, they say it's important and promise to cut this tax or enact that program. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about an end to the outsourcing and casualisation of the Australian workforce that means that pretty much no one has job security. Why is no one talking about this? It's possibly the biggest problem facing our nation at the moment. Why do we get so worked up at the thought of mining jobs being lost, but shrug when jobs are lost in telecommunications, banking, or any other industry that can outsource to offices in the Philippines or India? Why do we not care about workers left behind, hired as subcontractors or casuals with no leave entitlements or security, who can find themselves unemployed on an hour's notice?

Funnily enough, it's conservatives who are the biggest defenders of this. People who would drool with rage at the thought of environmental concerns resulting in loss of logging jobs are quick to justify the economic rationalism of offshoring and casualisation. Major companies sending profit-making departments overseas are "hampered by red tape"; having employees with years of service in full time hours employed as casuals just gives "flexibility". It's just the way the world is now. Profit above all else. Get with the times or get out.

Conservatives yearn for the "family values" and social stability of the 1950s but fail to acknowledge the economic structure which underpinned that society - high taxes, tarrifs, and full employment. When that is gone, and the stability is lost, they are quick to blame anything else for society's ills. But it's not political correctness that destroyed society, nor feminism. It's economic rationalism. And under modern society's profit above all motive, the work ethic we claim to admire is not rewarded. Conservatives push the message that they're all about opportunity - a system where if you work hard and take control of your own path, you will be rewarded. Economic rationalism makes that a lie. You can work hard, do the right thing, and still end up losing your job because too much profit is barely enough. Someone in India can do it for $4 an hour. Or you develop a serious illness and get no sick pay because, despite having been in your role for three years, you're a casual. And when that happens conservatives have gouged out the social services that decent, hard working people weren't supposed to need in their fabulous system of rewarding opportunity.

I've come down pretty hard on conservatives in this post, but frankly the ALP are no better. I haven't heard anything. It's not just a problem that affects retail workers and call centre operators (and I bet very few of the people who complain about Indian call centre operators have given much thought to the poor Australian sap who lost that job, let alone written to their MP about it). Nor is it a matter of having to "stay competitive". I recently finished a stint with a very large Australian company when our department was transferred to subcontractors in India - even though the division was making money. They were making a profit, but too much profit was barely enough. And the company didn't have to worry about paying myself or anyone else out, as we were employed as casuals through a "recruitment service company". People have lost their jobs who'd worked there for years, supporting families, but classified as "casuals" even though we were all on full time hours. Flexibility? Choice? Forget it. There's only one beneficiary from a system like that.

Look, I'm aware there are other huge issues facing this nation. But I'm in my mid-thirties and I've now been retrenched twice. I have to face that I may never have job security in my life, and I hate that. How could I ever feel confident to take on a mortgage, or afford activities for BabyG, knowing at any time it could all be snatched away? And there must be millions of others in the same situation. Can't we do something about this? It may be impossible to shove the economic rationalism genie back in the bottle, but can we, say, look at legal limits on the proportion of employees a company can outsource overseas without incurring higher taxes? Or a limit on the amount of time an employee can be hired as a "casual" without being offered a permanent role if they choose? No wonder people are stressed and worried. We hear so much about "rising costs of living", but never anything about the confidence that comes with knowing you'll be able to meet those costs. So much nostalgia is misplaced but when I hear of the tax rates and job security of the 1950s, well, it's the one time I'd say I'm an old fashioned lady.


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