Macken Sense: Jobs

1 June 2012

When I was a kid in primary school we had a teacher who used to give every week a theme, like Book Week, or Family Week, Animal Week and of course Religious Martyr Week – it was a Catholic thing. If she were still around today she would have to have made this week Job Week because that was the only story around.


From last Friday’s announcement that mining heiress, Gina Rinehart, would get her wish to bring in up to 1715 foreign construction workers for her Roy Hill iron ore project because it was so huge and there would not be enough Australian workers to build it; to Tuesday’s announcement that GVK and Gina Rinehart had  got the nod from the Queensland Co-ordinator General to build their 30 mtpa (30 million tonne) Alpha mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The Alpha mine is also expected to rely almost solely on a combination of fly in fly out and foreign workers.

Then there was the other jobs story doing the rounds – the one about the Hastie Group and how up to 2,700 Australians may lose their jobs. While it’s early days in this financial disaster it looks like the combination of falsified accounts (fraud) and the high Australian dollar made the company unviable. This announcement had come on the heels of that other announcement by Qantas saying it would slash 535 engineering positions. And then the week finished with Fairfax announcing it would axe nearly 70 editorial positions from the Illawarra Mercury and Newcastle Herald.

Yes indeed there were thousands of words written and many hours of people talking about these jobs from almost every perspective, except one.

In all the commentary and analysis I could not find anyone talking about the nature of the jobs being destroyed and the nature of the jobs being created. It was almost as if all jobs were considered of equal in value give or take a few hundred thousand.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Some jobs create multiple goods for the worker, their family, their community, environment and historical legacy. Some jobs create a wage and multiple negatives for the worker, their family, their community, their environment and their historical legacy.

Here’s how it works in today’s Australia.

According to Senior Treasury official, Dr. David Gruen, Executive Director of the Macro Economic Group, the mining boom is not creating new jobs, but rather seeing the transfer of jobs in manufacturing to mining. At Senate estimates in February 2012 he said; “In a well-functioning economy like ours, with unemployment close to its lowest sustainable rate, it is not the case that individual industries are creating jobs, they are simply re-distributing them… there really isn’t a multiplier.”

According to Mr Clive Palmer, his mine China First will:

•  increase the nation’s annual coal exports by $4.6 billion, or one quarter

•  contribute an extra $710 million a year to federal government revenue

•  contribute an extra $365 million to the Queensland government

On the other side of the ledger the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the same China First mine states the mine will also ensure:

•  3,000 jobs are lost across Queensland and Australia, particularly in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.

•  $1.2 billion of manufacturing activity will be lost.

•  Inflation will rise.

•  Small and medium sized businesses will be hit with higher bills for payroll and rent. This will result in some of them shutting down.

•  Housing affordability will decline for those who are not employed in the new mine.

•  Wealth will become less evenly distributed, with most of the benefits accruing to those employed in the China First mine.

•  The mine will hurt agriculture because it will occupy 55,000 hectares of grazing land.

Apart from manufacturing, the tourism industry is also seriously threatened by this coal expansion on a number of fronts including; the high dollar driving away overseas tourism, increased shipping and massive industrial port developments along the Great Barrier Reef and worsening acidification of the ocean as a result of climate change. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show that in May 2011 total mining employment was 217,100 in a workforce of over 11 million – representing only around 1.9%. This compares to around 500,000 jobs in tourism (4.5% of the workforce).

The mining boom is, by its own admission, destroying jobs in manufacturing and tourism and creating jobs in mining, but how do the jobs compare?

Jobs in manufacturing are traditionally;

•  Stable, full-time work,

•  have rosters that traditionally allow for a two day weekend and four weeks leave per year

•  begin with entry level skill levels that grow over time through both on the job training and apprenticeships

•  are located within the community in large urban areas

•  provide a diversity of employment opportunities and businesses and a more resilient economy

•  provide employment opportunities for men and women across all ages

Jobs in the Queensland mining boom are increasingly;

•  fly in fly out and foreign work visas (Enterprise Migration Agreement)

•  have 12 hour rosters on for 21 days and seven days off

•  have non-transferable skills

•  are for men aged between 20 and 35 years of age

•  are seen as alienating and stressful

•  are not always wanted by the communities that host them

Implicit in the mining companies EIS is the assumption that one job is an equivalent to another. Remember we are no longer talking about the mining jobs that have underpinned the economies of the Hunter, Illawarra and the La Trobe Valley, the mining boom is creating a totally transforming the way mining jobs are managed.

What they fail to account for is the increased social cost of losing stable jobs in tourism and manufacturing to the high paying but socially alienating jobs in mining. These costs are born by the miners themselves and their families.

Not all jobs are of equal value. Despite the high wages offered in the development of these mega mine projects, the cost borne by the blokes who work there, their families and the broader community is high. These projects hollow out economies and make who towns and economies vulnerable to the whims of the international markets.

Alternatively the jobs in manufacturing; the construction jobs, machinists, the sparkies, chippies and brickies, and the women and men who create our great tourist industry are jobs that drive diversity and resilience in the economy, they give workers a secure income, work hours and community they could put down roots in.

These are the jobs that enable dads to put in a few hours in the kids’ reading classes, mums to help in the school tuck shop and go to creating not just a workforce but more importantly a community.

We need to get smart about jobs that matter to all of us, not just a few of us.

Macken Sense is a weekly metabolic breakdown of media and green events by our astute commentator, Julie Macken. Follow Julie Macken on Twitter @juliemacken.