The older I get, the more I worry about the nightmare we oldies are leaving for our children and grandchildren. The obvious, in-your-face problem is climate change, but other difficulties are everywhere you look.
Now the northern hemisphere has been introduced to the joys of bushfires and heatwaves with, I imagine, a cleanser of flooding to come, global warming has become global boiling. Climate change is now — and will get a lot worse even before we oldies have popped off.
We wasted decades worrying about the economic cost of doing something about climate change, now we’re facing the daunting economic costs of not having done anything about climate change.
We’ve exchanged a government of closet climate-change deniers for a government that knows what it should do, but is dragging its feet under the influence of two powerful unions representing the interests of a relative handful of mine workers who don’t want to look for jobs elsewhere.
Then there’s the way the older generation of home owners has allowed the lure of ever-rising house prices to permit successive governments to turn housing into an inheritance lottery.
Australia is dividing into two distant tribes: the owners and the renters. If you have the good fortune to be born to home-owning parents (perhaps with an investment property or two on the side), the Bank of Mum and Dad will ensure you too eventually become a home owner, able to pass your good fortune on to your own kids.
But pick renters as your parents — or have too many siblings — and you, like them, will be a life-long renter. As will your kids.
And, naturally, governments couldn’t possibly oblige landlords to give their tenants more security and better maintenance without the landlords giving up and leaving thousands homeless on the streets. (Yeah, sure.)
HECS HELP debt is adding to the difficulty of making it onto the home ownership merry-go-round. The scheme was designed to have people who benefit from a university education contribute towards its cost without discouraging kids from poor families from seeking to better themselves.
But incessant tinkering by successive governments has turned HECS into a millstone.
And all that’s before you get to the gig economy, better thought of as the rise of insecure employment. The security of having a full-time, permanent job is something the older generation has been able to take for granted. Not so the youngsters.
In the latest surge of inflation, businesses haven’t hesitated to pass on to customers the higher cost of imported inputs, often seeming to add a bit extra for luck.
But in the decade or two before then, price rises were modest, sometimes even falling below 2 per cent a year, despite healthy growth in profits.
One way that businesses kept prices low was to find new ways of holding down labour costs. With the gig economy, people seeking to earn a living from digital sites are treated as contractors rather than employees.
They thus get no guaranteed work, no paid sick or holiday leave, no workers’ compensation cover and no employer contributions to their superannuation. Their work is precarious.
But that’s just the bit that gets the publicity. Less talked about are the various devices businesses have used to minimise labour costs, shift risks onto workers, and weaken the legal link with their workers by using labour-hire companies, setting up franchise arrangements and disposable subsidiaries.
Above all, workers have been hired as casuals. Casual employment is meant for cases where work is intermittent, short-term or unpredictable. But these days many casuals work full-time, most work the same hours from week to week, more than half can’t choose the days on which they work, and most have been with their employer for more than a year.
Casual workers get no sick or holiday pay, meaning if they’re too sick to work they earn no income. If they take a break, they have to live on their savings.
In principle, they get a 25 per cent loading instead. But get this: as best we can tell from official statistics, less than half actually receive it.
And because they’re casuals, they get no job security. Permanent employees can’t be sacked without due cause. If they’re laid off, they get redundancy money. Casuals don’t have to be sacked and don’t get redundancy. They just don’t get rostered on.
Some companies avoid union wage rates and conditions by using workers actually employed by labour-hire companies.
Last week, workplace relations minister Tony Burke announced further details of the government’s plan to make it easier for casual workers to apply to become permanent. Earlier he’d announced plans to require labour-hire workers to be paid the same as the regular employees doing the same work beside them.
Naturally, the employer groups cried that this would “increase business costs and risks” – which I take as a tacit admission that causal workers have been underpaid.
It’s not much, but it’s a step towards giving the younger generation a better future.
Ross Gittins is the economics editor.
Source: Thanks smh.com