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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 2095

Mr O'NEIL(3.56) —One of our daily newspapers carried a story recently quoting an authoritative opinion that today's unemployed are worse off than those in the Great Depression in the 1930s. Because standards of subsistence are so much higher now we need more equipment to keep us afloat in the current of modern living. So it follows that the threshold of suffering when economic hardship begins to bite is much lower than it used to be. All that is debatable, but the argument is reinforced by one point which in my opinion cannot be given too much emphasis-that is, that while the slump of the 1930s was followed by three of more decades of full employment nobody can make such a forecast today.

World-wide changes in production methods and demands patterns have become not only more frequent but also more drastic and there is every reason to believe that they will become more so. One segment for our population is particularly affected by these uncertainties. This is the segment we call youth which is roughly defined as those in the age group between 15 and 19. They are the subject of some well-meaning attention in this 1985 International Youth Year. They are also the subject of statistics which show 150,000 of them out of work and some 85,000 of that 150,000 living well below the poverty line. These are the people of whom it is righteously expected that they should be constantly and diligently on the lookout for any job, no matter how temporary or dead-end it might be and regardless of what their educational qualifications might be. It is taken for granted that they should maintain an eager-beaver attitude, whatever the setbacks just as proof that they are worthy of what we may have to give them-short of a job.

There is little sign of any general understanding of the discouragement the young jobless might suffer from contact with the numerous learned adult predictions concerning their prospects, short of the one which says that many young people who have never had the experience of earning a living will live out their lives without doing so. From the time they enter high school and begin to think about their future vocations they come into contact with other informed predictions, such as the forecast that many students training for a specific kind of job will see that job vanish in the wake of technological change before they have finished their course. Above all, it is emphasised to them that they should be as versatile as possible in their outlook and training capability, that they should be able to switch from a redundant job to a retraining course at the drop of a hat, perhaps many times in one working life.

I think that this is an admirable aim for planners and governments to work on, and I know that much is already being attempted, but I want to stress here as strongly as I can that the allocation of opportunities for retraining must never be allowed to be decided by the personal whims of business executives or become subject to discriminatory bans to suit some facet of a large company's iron-clad personnel policy. I mention this because just such an instance appears to have occurred in my electorate. It resulted in no fewer than 38 apprentices being ruled ineligible for retraining after they were sacked from the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd Whyalla steelworks at the termination of their indentures. The scheme to which they were refused entry was set up by the Federal Government for the benefit of workers retrenched from the steel industry as a result of the rationalisation process agreed to by this Government and BHP in 1983 to rescue the BHP steel division from threatened closure.

The retraining scheme is operated entirely at public expense. BHP has no input at all, but it does in effect have an ability to blacklist intending applicants by refusing to classify them as retrenched or surplus to requirements. The company did just this in the case of the 38 apprentices. They were therefore left stigmatised by the implications that they had been sacked for inefficiency or misbehaviour rather than because there were no jobs for them at tradesmen's level. This put them outside the guidelines for the Government's retraining scheme. It also would appear to have established them on BHP's own quite extensive local job blacklist, which gives them all the more reason for acquiring new skills. I do not pretend to know why BHP acted in this apparently capricious manner, to destroy the retaining prospects for its surplus apprentices. One can assume only that it was done for the sake of the records or to suit some quirk of company policy.

I have made my own inquiries and I am satisfied that by far the greater part of the reason for the sackings was indeed redundancy, and I hope to have this officially recognised for purposes of retraining where this is sought. I think it is obvious enough that training and retraining must become a crucial part of this country's industrial strategy for the future. It is just not good enough that any workers access to either should be subject to influence from employers unless they are conducting and paying for the training themselves. I commend the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) in taking this matter up and doing something about it.

Madam ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.