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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2382

Mrs DRAPER (6:01 PM) —It is with some concern that I rise to speak on the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 1998 . A very simple question has been posed to the House today: do we want to reduce unemployment or don't we? Rather than refute some aspects of the previous member's speech, I refute all of it. To say on the one hand that we desire lower unemployment but then on the other hand that we would willingly lock thousands of young people out of the job market would be an act of gross irresponsibility. The growth of casual and part-time jobs for young people is a direct result of the unfair dismissal laws. So the Labor Party has to get into the real world and examine the real reasons for ever increasing casual jobs. Blame the Labor Party for their unfair dismissal laws.

In my electorate of Makin youth unemployment is still a significant problem, but we have worked constructively and with conspicuous success over the last few years to help bridge the gap. Groups in and around my electorate such as Nastec, the Northern Adelaide Development Board and the Tea Tree Gully Development Board have worked closely with young people and local businesses to ensure that the skills and job readiness that business looks for in its young employees can be found among our local youth.

Not only have we found a willingness on the part of local business to take on young people and train them, they are also telling us that it is vital that they are able to do this. They want to take on young people with the right attitude and teach them the skills that will make them productive in those businesses.

This approach is working in my electorate of Makin, enabling businesses to take on young people, to train them and to give them a future. But this brighter future for the youth of my electorate would be trammelled by those who oppose this bill and who would retain the unfair dismissal regulations. In the name of equity of opportunity, the opponents of this bill are proposing to take away the best set of opportunities the young people in my electorate have had in years. It is the kind of equality that would warm the hearts of barren idealogues everywhere. It is equality in theory only.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for people between the ages of 15 and 19 was 27 per cent at the end of last year. This compared with seven per cent for people aged 20 and over. Even when you factor in the number of young people in education and training, the unemployment rate among those actively looking for work is still significantly higher than for the rest of the population.

Clearly these young people are not experiencing equality of employment outcomes at the present time. How their employment prospects will be further enhanced by making them more expensive to employ is a question of logic that has so far eluded those opposite. The difference in this debate is quite stark. Members on the opposite side of the House are talking about equality of opportunity in theory, while we are talking about actual opportunities in the world of work.

I want to talk a bit more about that word `opportunity'. There are two aspects to it. There is the opportunity to gain that important first position, a question of whether or not the labour market is flexible enough to enable you to gain employment. There is also the world of opportunity opened up by one's first employment position. The level of wage that you are being paid is just one aspect of this. Perhaps even more importantly, there are the life experiences, the lessons in teamwork and the willingness shown to work that you are able to display to your current and potential employers, which are ultimately worth much more than what you take home in pay.

It is important to note that this legislation does not represent an attack on competency based rates of pay, nor does it provide employers with a licence to underpay skilled workers. Rather it recognises that, if you are an unskilled or low skilled young person, who for one reason or another is not in receipt of further education and training, you are not well served by a rate of pay which will have the effect of locking you out of employment.

The other important point that needs to be borne in mind about competency based rates of pay is that not all industries have moved to this system. Therefore there will either be an assumption that these people should be paid at the same rate as older, more experienced workers or there will be a rush on the part of these industries to competency based wage rates. This could well lead to badly conceived wage structures in those industries.

There is no need for such an approach to be forced upon employers. No rational employer will underpay a skilled worker. Employers in my electorate know that a worker with the right skills and attitude is worth their weight in gold. Far from wishing to undercut them, they will do everything in their power to hold onto them. In fact in many industries that operate in my electorate of Makin, a young person who is taken on at a junior rate of pay may well find that, by the time they reach their early 20s, they are in a stronger position than people in their early 20s who are coming out of more formal education or training. This is because they have been able to demonstrate to their employer their willingness to work. They have assimilated into the work culture and understand their employer's objectives. They may also have the opportunity, once established in their place of work, to acquire more formal training as they progress.

While there will always be a small number of employers who will not properly value their workers, these employers are not likely to prosper in the long term because failure to properly value your workers is a bad business decision. Employers who look after, and invest in, their workers will reap the rewards. But they will not be able to do that unless the system allows them to. If the start-up costs of investing in employees is too high, employers will shy away and look for alternatives.

It is a fact sometimes lost on members opposite that there can be no power without choice. It is no good effectively robbing people of the choices available to them and then telling them that they have been empowered. It is no good taking away someone's job and then telling them that they have a right to higher wages. If we truly want to empower workers and those trying to enter the world of work, the best way of doing that is to have a flexible labour market. As long as policies which create higher than necessary levels of employment are championed, people have no choice and consequently no power. This failure to grasp the link between choice and power can be found in many of the arguments that we have heard against this bill.

My son recently sought work in local retail outlets during his school holidays. I saw this as a very positive thing because it would undoubtedly equip him with the skills and attitudes which would stand him in good stead in his future search for more permanent employment. To suggest that my son should be entitled to adult wages at the age of 15 or 16, at such a stage in his life, is not at all in his best interests. It means that he is more likely to be excluded from that opportunity and consequently less likely to gain employment in the future.

It is all very well to answer that, if his skills are low, he will still be paid according ly. But employers are then in a position whereby they must assess a young worker's skills thoroughly before taking them on, rather than being able to say, `Look, we're willing to give you a try and, if you're good enough, we'll give you some more opportunities.' Members opposite have also suggested that this bill will exclude young people from participating in our community, yet there are few forms of alienation more total in their impact than exclusion from the world of work. There is nothing more likely to exclude our young people from community life than policies which would exclude them from a place in paid employment.

The fact that we must keep coming back to is that the abolition of youth wages will lead to higher rates of unemployment—taken together with the current unfair dismissal laws—among our young people. I would have thought that this would have been the crucial fact in this debate, yet I have not heard it disputed by members opposite. They talk about opportunity while ignoring the stark fact that abolishing youth wages will lead to fewer job opportunities for young people, not more.

I drew the House's attention earlier this week to the growing social problem of young people finding that they have fewer opportunities in the labour market and the fact that this leads to them, in many cases, having to defer life choices, such as marriage, home ownership and children, until they are well into their 30s. I pointed out at the time that the failure by some in the other place to grasp the need for reform to our unfair dismissal laws was consigning these young people to a half-life of lost or postponed opportunities. Opposition to this bill is yet another example of that mentality. Opportunities are being denied to young people in the name of ideology.

Employers and young people in my electorate of Makin have at least one thing in common: they are unimpressed by ideology. What concerns them is the reality on the ground. Reality on the ground tells them that an opportunity means nothing unless there is a system which allows employers to offer affordable jobs to young people. Employers in my electorate know this and the young people in my electorate also know it. I commend this bill to the House. It is a bill which creates genuine opportunities for young people and it will be of great benefit to young people in my electorate.