With coronavirus restrictions being relaxed across the country, and community spread at low levels, Morrison’s focus is now turning to reviving the economy. But government and employer demands for pay cuts and sacrifices from workers will only create more misery and deepen the economic crisis.
Unemployment has massively increased to 6.2 per cent in April as 600,000 workers lost their jobs. It is expected to hit at least 10 per cent later this year.
Deloitte Access Economics says it won’t return to pre-crisis levels until 2024.
The economy was already in trouble before the COVID-19 crisis hit. We can’t afford to return to business as usual. It was “normal” capitalism that created the health and economic crisis.
Scott Morrison found hundreds of billions of dollars to expand healthcare and subsidise business when the shutdown crippled the economy.
But the Liberals are already insisting that the JobKeeper wage subsidy will end, and JobSeeker payments will drop back to $40 a day after 24 September. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says they, “were not designed to go forever”.
But the dole has been too low, for too long. Both JobKeeper and JobSeeker need to be extended, not cut.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called for JobSeeker payments to be permanently increased (although not at current levels) and for increased spending on infrastructure like high speed rail and renewable energy.
Even mainstream economists are warning that suddenly cutting government support measures could push the economy deeper into recession.
This is exactly what happened in the 1930s, when wage cuts and government austerity only deepened the slump.
Large numbers of workers have already been excluded from the wage subsidy. The government has changed the rules three times to make sure university staff can’t get it.
Over 4500 workers at Dnata, a Qantas catering company, have been refused JobKeeper just because their employer is a foreign government-owned airline.
Another 2.2 million migrant workers on temporary visas and casuals employed for less than 12 months also miss out.
Up to one third of workers still lack paid sick leave, meaning they are forced to choose between going to work sick, and risk spreading infection, or losing pay.
The Liberals have also cut the notice period bosses need to give before a vote on varying Enterprise Bargaining Agreements to 24 hours—leaving workers no time to understand or organise to oppose the changes.
Unions including the ACTU have called on Morrison to widen the eligibility for JobKeeper so no worker is left behind.
But as unemployment grows, most union leaders are scurrying to collaborate with the bosses and accept wage cuts in the false hope this will protect jobs.
Union officials and the ACTU have negotiated Award variations in restaurants and office administration that allow bosses to cut hours and impose wage freezes.
Part-time workers at McDonalds are losing overtime pay and set shifts under changes to the Fast Food Award supported by the SDA and the ACTU.
The NTEU national leadership has taken things a step further, disgracefully negotiating a “National Framework” with the university bosses that will mean across the board pay cuts of up to 15 per cent.
Despite their claims, there are no guarantees that this will save jobs.
But there is a growing revolt amongst NTEU members, with rank and file members organising to “vote no” to both the National Framework deal and any attempt to vary agreements to cut pay and conditions on individual campuses.
The NSW state government is considering cancelling pay rises for teachers, public sector workers, and even nurses.
In a welcome break with the capitulations from other union leaders, the Teachers Federation and the nurses’ union in NSW have rejected the pay cuts.
The Federation says it is prepared to take “whatever action is necessary” to keep a 2.28 per cent pay rise.
The words will need to be turned into action in the weeks ahead. Despite the health restrictions, workers can still organise and take industrial action.
In Sydney over 150 cars and bikes defied the lockdown restrictions to join a convoy on 1 May to demand no cuts to jobs or wages.
Workers in warehouses and at Hutchison Ports have walked off the job to demand safety measures and testing.
We are not “all in this together”. The bosses are demanding more sacrifices and more flexibility from workers to prop up their sick system, and keep their profits while hundreds of thousands are thrown out of work. We need more socialists, and stronger organisation to fan the flames of every bit of resistance.