18 May 2017

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much for coming. I just wanted to make some comments on the ABS data for last month’s unemployment figures.
Firstly, Labor does welcome the decline in the headline rate of unemployment to 5.7 per cent and a net addition to jobs. However it is important to note that there are some underlying concerns with the data when you drill passed that headline figure. Firstly, again we see a fall in fulltime jobs, of 11,600 jobs, and that’s the story across communities across the country where people cannot find sufficient work.
There’s also been a decline in aggregate hours for the month, a fall of 4.3 million hours. Again reinforcing the concern that people are not able to find sufficient work. That’s why we have a record number of Australians underemployed - 1.1 million workers underemployed, not being able to find sufficient work. You add to that the 730,000 unemployed Australians  - that’s 1.8 million Australians not being able to find enough work or not being able to find any work whatsoever. Now that’s of concern to us and that’s why we say to the Government they need to have a better set of policies and a jobs plan for this country.
Now I need to also just touch if I can on the Budget. The Budget last week forecast the decline of 100,000 jobs over the next four years, that in itself is an indictment on the failure of the Government. But also I need to question the forecasting, the fanciful forecasting of wage growth over the next four years in light of the ABS data yesterday. Clearly the ABS data has indicated that real wages are falling in this country, people are struggling to make ends meet, to pay the bills because of cost of living pressures and the evidence is there, and that completely contradicts the trend that is forecast in the Budget to see wage growth to 3 ¾ percent over the next four years.
Now that seems fanciful to us on the evidence to hand. Of course it is predicated, in fact the surplus forecast of the Budget is predicated on those figures. So again, yes we welcome any increase, we are concerned about the fewer opportunities for full time work and we are concerned that there are problems in the labour market in terms of these matters.

JOURNALIST: You are really digging deep here though aren’t you to search for negative headlines? The unemployment rate has dropped to 5.7 percent and that really beat expectations, so really this is a good set of figures isn’t it?

O’CONNOR: Well our job is to firstly welcome any increase and any job, any additional job should be welcomed. And indeed people that find work, I am very pleased about that. But you need to look at the trend and the underlying factors.
Firstly the budget itself forecasts 100,000 fewer jobs. That was the case in the budget last year – over the next 4 years. That’s a fact in terms of the forecast in the budget.
Secondly, we saw a fall in full time jobs last month. Now, it is good for people to be employed, but to have a job that might be 2 hours a week is not necessarily sufficient. And that’s why we are seeing a record number of underemployed workers in this nation.
Now, that has to be tackled. There’s no point in saying that people are in the labour market if you have in excess of 1 million people saying ‘we can’t find enough work’. That needs to be, I think, discussed and debated, with a remedy to be resolved and act on that. But there’s no point in saying that the rate has fallen, and all is right with the world. It would be irresponsible of the Government to consider that.

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