Working with the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union, we are exploring the possibilities of a Green Job Guarantee in the Australian context.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aim to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030. However, there is an employment crisis in Australia, with over 1.8 million workers are either un- or under-employed and an average 16 jobseekers competing for every advertised job. Of the jobs available, there are fewer and fewer full-time, permanent positions, with workers increasingly forced to rely on insecure, casual work arrangements, such as those in the so-called “gig economy”. While at the same time, there are challenges on a number of fronts facing the labour market, including digital and climate change disruptions that will reshape work as we currently understand it. The rise of artificial intelligence and automation will disrupt a whole range of industries, making many of the jobs we take for granted redundant and raising questions about where the jobs of the future will be located. At the same time, climate change threatens to destabilise both biophysical and social relations, including the sorts of employment relations that underpin the social worlds of millions of workers. There is a huge amount of work that needs doing to meet the challenge of climate change, work that includes building the infrastructure to help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, in areas such as energy, transport and housing, care and social services, ecological restoration and biodiversity conservation, and sustainable agricultural production. However, in many instances, the market is either incapable or unwilling to properly value such work, so it is conducted on either a voluntary or ad hoc basis.
A Green Job Guarantee (GJG) programme could help address all of these big societal problems. A GJG is a rights-based approach to employment that starts at the premise that the right to work is a fundamental human right. The basic proposition of a GJG is that, where the market has failed to provide jobs for workers, the government has an obligation to step in as an employer of last resort. The federal government would administer a public-sector employment service, creating a pool of labour that workers could transition in and out of as labour market conditions change. Local government authorities would develop and assess programmes according to place-based suitability, staffed by workers participating in the employment service. A GJG would guarantee workers a minimum living wage, with all the benefits and entitlements afforded to any other worker, for the duration of their employment on any given project. A GJG of this kind could create up to 600,000 new jobs, reduce unemployment to two percent, while virtually eliminating labour underutilisation.
Connor is working with Associate professor Rob Watts and the Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) to help coordinate a policy development working group to explore the possibilities of a GJG in the Australian context. The AUWU is a national union representing unemployed and underemployed Australians. The AUWU formed in early 2014 with the primary aim of fighting for the rights and dignity of unemployed workers and has over 15,000 members and active branches in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and in many regional areas. The AUWU has no political affiliations and is run entirely by volunteers and is funded entirely from donations.
The working group will produce a fully costed policy document for the AUWU to present to its members. The policy will be a campaign platform for the AUWU to organise around and provide an opportunity for them to advocate for a positive programme that will improve the lives of unemployed workers.