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Wednesday, 14 May 1980
Page: 2195

Senator RYAN (Australian Capital Territory) - I support the matter of public importance brought before the Senate today by my colleague Senator Button. The matter of public importance is:

The failure of the Fraser Government to deal with high unemployment and the social consequences of technological change.

The Federal Opposition regards these matters as matters of absolute urgency in the face of the pathetic and inadequate response of the Government both to the crisis of unemployment in this country and to the way in which that unemployment crisis is being exacerbated by the ad hoc, unplanned introduction of technology in certain areas of the work force. Nothing said by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) has modified to any extent our concern that these matters are being ignored or neglected by the

Government. The pathetic and inadequate response of the Minister to Senator Button's contribution is typical of the Government's handling of this matter. We have an unemployment crisis which is worsening. We have a crisis which is being exacerbated by technological change. We have all sorts of expert predictions from Europe, the United States of America and Japan about the effects of technology on the work force. What has the Government said in response? It has said virtually nothing. Senator Durack did not even reach the subject of technological change until four minutes before his time in this debate expired. I think that is a good indication to the Senate and to the Australian public of the low priority the Government is prepared to afford to this crucial matter.

We have an employment crisis which is being exacerbated by technological change. All decisions about technological change are ultimately political decisions. The Government either is taking no decisions or is making the wrong decisions. Of course, we are all aware that the Government has set up a committee to investigate technological change. Frankly, the Opposition is not optimistic about the outcome of that inquiry. It is not optimistic that that inquiry will come up with a report on which the Government will be prepared to act in a way that is constructive in terms of employment and in terms of the economy of this country. The Government has such a poor record with regard to inquiries into employment, inquiries into the work force and action on such inquiries that the Opposition cannot muster any optimism about the consequences of the Myers inquiry.

I must make clear on behalf of the Australian Labor Party that it is not opposed to technological change. It welcomes technological innovation where it is in the interests of the Australian public. The Australian Labor Party believes that technology can create employment if it is introduced within the context of a planned economy. By that, I mean an economy which has a national manpower policy, a national training and retraining scheme and, of course, national economic and employment objectives to which a national manpower policy and a national training scheme are directed. Without a planned economy, without a national manpower policy and a training scheme but with the unplanned, ad hoc introduction of technology into the economy we find that technology is destroying jobs.

The particular area of the work force which is suffering from the introduction of technology and to which I wish to draw attention in the debate this afternoon is the area relating to women.

The Government generally is accused of ignoring the economic and employment problems of Australian women as workers. It is the case, of course, that most Australian women are in the work force for some years of their lives. The number of years that Australian women spend in the work force is increasing. I am not talking about a minority group; I am not talking about a minority interest. I am talking about a central part of our economy, that is, the contribution made by women workers and the potential contribution made by women workers. Women have the highest record of unemployment in every age group, starting from teenagers. There are far more teenage girls unemployed than there are teenage boys. The same situation applies to every age group. Yet the Government has made no specific response to the problem of female unemployment. The actual statistics about female unemployment underestimate the situation because a great deal of women's unemployment is hidden unemployment. This includes women who have dropped out of the work force, women who are not eligible for the unemployment benefit because they are married and women who no longer apply for jobs because they know there is no opportunity for employment. Therefore, their unemployment is not measured. The extent of female unemployment is much greater than even the high levels which are indicated in the statistics we have available to us.

It seems to me to be a matter of great concern that the Government in the few attempts it is making towards establishing some sort of social policy for this country is emphasising what it likes to call family policy at the expense of women's economic independence. We have heard a great deal about the family policy which puts women squarely into the context of a part of a family unit. We hear nothing at all from the Government about the problems of women who become unemployed, in many cases because of technological change, and who are no longer able to contribute to their families' well-being by being wage earners. That seems to me to be a much more basic problem than some of the problems to which the Government has addressed itself. It is certainly a much more basic economic oppression for women who are suffering from unemployment than the recent tax change to increase the dependent spouse rebate would accommodate.

I am very concerned- I hope that further Government speakers in this debate might care to comment on this- about rumours that the Government intends to abolish the one office which concerns itself with women in the work force, that is, the Office of Women's Affairs, and merging it with the Office of Child Care, which provides child care assistance for working women, and replacing these two offices with an office of family affairs. If that is the Government's intention I would be very critical of it because the particular needs of women, particularly women as workers, could not be met in my view adequately by an office of family affairs.

One of the major problems facing women in the work force in Australia and in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries is that women are still involved in what is a sex segregated work force. Up until now the segregation of the work force generally has been in terms of skill and wage levels. To put it simply, the majority of women have been employed in the least skilled jobs, the lowest paid jobs and the jobs with the least career opportunities. Now a new form of sex segregation is developing in the work force- the segregation between those in part time and full time employment. As women are losing the opportunity to gain full time employment, the part time work force is increasing. However, that is not a development that we can judge as progressive in terms of women's employment rights, because most of those part time jobs are poorly paid and do not carry the benefits of permanency. Again, the development of part time jobs is one in which women are mainly participating. So, we have a new form of a sex segregated work force where the men generally have much better opportunities to get full time, well paid jobs with proper terms and conditions and where women are forming this inferior parttime work force.

To a very large extent this has come about because of technological change. I cite, as an example of the degree to which women are moving into this part time work force, figures from the Parliamentary Library statistics branch which show that in March 1980, 34 per cent of the female work force was in part time employment whereas only 5.3 per cent of the male work force was in part time employment. Between 1970 and 1977 part time jobs accounted for more than 55 per cent of the new jobs created. At the same time full time employment fell by 41,000 jobs and part time employment increased by over I 76,000 jobs. Seventy per cent of women part time workers are married and 55 per cent of female part time workers are aged between 25 and 44- the time when child care responsibilities are the heaviest. It is quite clear from statistics like these that women with family responsibilities are moving into part time employment but, as I have said, they are moving into inferior employment. The circumstances from which this situation has developed have a great deal to do with technological change.

I draw the attention of the Senate to some examples of how new technology has destroyed jobs, particularly jobs traditionally done by women. Firstly, I will quote from the submission of the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations-Australian Council of Trade Unions to the Myers Committee of Inquiry which pointed out that the banking and insurance sector will be able to cut staff by between 30 to 40 per cent in 10 years and that the new technology has already accounted for 150,000 jobs, about one third of the present number of unemployed. Of course most of the jobs which disappeared in the clerical and banking areas were women's jobs. Other examples which were given to the Myers Committee include one by the managing director of Westaff staffing agency who said that word processors had taken over the jobs of more than 20,000 typists in Sydney alone. The Federal Government is going into technology and is expected to be a big buyer of word processors. Public Service unions estimate that more than 9,000 jobs have already been lost through computerisation. The Commonwealth Banking Corporation said that computerisation will cut staff by 2,000 after allowing for the employment of 700 staff in the electronic data processing area. The examples go on. Time does not permit me to bring any more to the attention of the Senate.

The point is not that we do not want technology of this kind. We recognise that word processors have an important contribution to make to the efficiency of an office. We recognise that other forms of automation have contributions to make to efficiency, but where the introduction of those forms of technology is destroying jobs- in particular destroying the jobs of women who are already seriously disadvantaged in the labour market- the Government ought to concern itself with employment policies which take account of the new technology. The Government ought to be developing training schemes for typists, for example, who are being displaced by word processors. It ought to be developing training schemes for other office employees who are being displaced by the new technology. In order to do that the Government needs a manpower policy which, of course, it does not have.

In the time remaining to me I draw the attention of the Senate to a communique recently issued by the OECD which revealed that OECD countries generally are experiencing similar problems to Australia, although many other countries have taken much more positive steps in response to these problems. The OECD has declared a number of policies affecting the employment of women. One is to adopt policies to deal with unemployment which do not discriminate, either directly or indirectly, against women. Another is to stimulate and further the development of and increase access to employment training and recurrent education programs, particularly for women whose skills need upgrading and women who are re-entering the labour force, and to take into account new technologies. Governments should use more actively those measures directly available to them to expand equality of opportunity for women, for example, recruitment, training and promotion in the public sector, employment exchanges, employment creation programs, regional development policies and public procurement. Governments ought to ensure that there are effective organisational arrangements for the co-ordination and implementation of policy over the whole range of relevant public policies which affect equal employment opportunities for women.

Australia participates in these OECD conferences. The Australian Government has available to it the OECD policies regarding employment of women, particularly in respect to technological change and technologically induced unemployment. My recommendation to the Government is to take the steps it ought to take to start to implement those policies in Australia. The Government can enact anti-discrimination legislation; it can introduce equality of opportunity programs with time scales and take assertive action and so forth within its public sector which accounts for a huge area of employment. The Government can provide more child care services and more training facilities so that women are not further disadvantaged as technology destroys jobs. It has been disappointing to date to note that the Government has made no public response to such recommendations. It has not exercised the powers that it has available to it. The social consequences of wide scale unemployment already are severe. They will grow worse because of technological change. Women belong to a group which is particularly badly affected by technological change insofar as there is no manpower policy, no training scheme and no government action with respect to equal opportunity and employment.

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