Australia’s low unemployment figures are an opportunity to build upon, not a justification for complacency

Ahead of the September Jobs and Skills Summit, today’s news that unemployment figures remain historically low at 3.4 per cent is welcome. Low unemployment and the summit provide an historic opportunity for the Albanese government to secure full employment so that people seeking paid work or the extra shifts they need can find them. 

But with labour and skills shortages, and forecasts for further rises in inflation, ACOSS is calling on the Government, the RBA, unions, business and civil society to work together through the Jobs Summit to find less damaging ways to deal with those problems than increasing unemployment. 

ACOSS Acting CEO Edwina MacDonald said: 

“While today’s figures are welcome news, we remain concerned about the 750,000 people who have been locked out of paid work for over a year while trying to survive on a miserly income support payments of $46 a day. Many are older workers, people with disabilities, or people caring for young children. Some have skills that are unsuited to the jobs available. In other cases, regrettably, employers are reluctant to give them a chance because they have been unemployed for a long time, have a disability, or are considered ‘too old’.  

“We must seize this opportunity of low unemployment and the upcoming Summit to achieve and maintain full employment. This would mean ensuring that people who are seeking paid work or more hours can get it, that the quality of jobs and real income levels are improving, including for those on income support, and that no one is left behind. 

“If the Summit to have a real and lasting impact, full employment must be at the heart of it, in line with the government’s commitment when in opposition.  

Over the last 50 years, full employment has taken a back seat to efforts to curb inflation using the blunt instruments of high interest rates and government spending cuts. 

“This has come at a huge cost for millions of people cast out of employment and millions more unable to obtain the paid working hours they need to live decently. Over the decade before the pandemic, wages and income support payments stagnated.  

“We are in danger of repeating that mistake. Higher interest rates risk closing the door on the unique opportunity we now have to achieve and maintain full employment. There is no justification for large increases in interest rates or cuts in government spending to curb inflation. With wages growing by just 2.6% through the year, there is no sign of a wage price spiral emerging in Australia. 

“Let’s use the Summit to work together to find less brutal ways to contain inflation and address labour shortages so that our incomes can grow again, the quality of jobs – including in essential care services – improves, and no one is left behind.  

“Only consistently low unemployment and a fresh investment in decent employment services that work with employers as much as people who are unemployed, work experience in regular paid jobs, and quality training programs will change that. 

“If the hundreds of thousands of people who are looking for paid work are supported to secure employment, that will be a win for those currently left out, a win for employers, and a big step towards full employment in Australia.”