Learn about the Job Guarantee

Question 7 - Why does the Job Guarantee advance human rights?

Since the mid-1970s Australia’s has experienced its longest period of persistently high unemployment in its history. The best outcome either political party has been able to postulate with supporting policies is a 5 per cent rate achieved over a drawn out period. The persistent of mass unemployment is a direct consequence of inadequate and misplaced government policy. The costs of unemployment extend beyond the narrow concerns usually considered by orthodox economists. The rise and sustenance of mass unemployment since the early 1970s has acted as a form of social exclusion perpetrated against particular sections of the community, in general the young, the old, the poor and those lacking skills and education. The burden of unemployment is not shared evenly across the community.

An empirically based, experiential notion of human rights suggests that governments are violating the right to work by refusing to eliminate unemployment via appropriate use of budget deficits. We show that unemployment is not compatible with fundamental human rights in that unemployment denies those affected access to income and hence participation in markets, it reduces the opportunity for advancement and stigmatises those affected, and violates basic concepts of membership and citizenship. Without the right to work, afflicted individuals are denied citizenship rights as surely as they were denied the right of free speech or the right to vote. As long as employment is not considered to be a human right, a portion of the community will be excluded from the effective economic participation in the community

The Job Guarantee underpins the following propositions:

  • There should be a right to work
  • This right should be a statutory right
  • The State should bear the responsibility for implementing this right
  • Access to work should not be conditional
  • The right to work and a full employment policy are inexorably linked
  • A full employment program, encompassing the right to work, can be implemented which also guarantees price stability.

Why should work be regarded as a right? As a starting point, labour income constitutes the major income source for the majority of individuals and households. Without income, ability to participate in a market economy is curtailed. This exclusion has long been recognised through the provision of safety net protection for those who are unable to participate in the labour market by virtue of age, infirmity and caring responsibilities. It was also the case for those who were without labour income by virtue of unemployment. Access to income also governs access to other rights, including minimum requirements of clothing, food and housing. Paid employment shares a direct relationship with food and water as a requisite for subsistence in many societies. Unemployment and underemployment, together with a lack of access to fertile agricultural land, means inadequate income, misery and early death for millions across the globe. Paid work provides the employed with choice in the market economy and the opportunity for advancement. The unemployed have limited access to credit and limited access over the range of goods and services they can purchase. They are not in a position to save for education, holidays and housing improvements. Their choices are constrained by their lack of income. Without social transfers they have to depend upon savings, family transfers or black economy activities in order to sustain minimum living standards. Their exclusion goes beyond this. They are not accorded the status attached to employment and they make no contribution to market activity; the barometer of worth in a market economy.

What do we mean by the right to work? Those who wish to do so should be able to obtain paid full-time (or fractional) employment. This guarantee should be made by the State and it should be legally enforceable in much the same way as other rights. Should it be any work as designated by the State? No, those exercising their right to work should be given options as to the type of employment they wish to take up. What wage rates should they be paid? They should be paid minimum adult rates of pay and be accorded to same rights and conditions associated with full-time market employment (or pro rata) - holiday and sickness benefits, a safe workplace, protection against unfair dismissal. For how long should they be employed? For as long as they wish while satisfying the standard conditions of employment. Those exercising this right could regard guaranteed jobs as a temporary step towards higher paid employment in the market sector.

The neglect of either national or international consideration of the right to work enables unemployment to flourish across the globe. The ILO recently reported that global unemployment and underemployment was around one billion people with nothing short of a renewed international commitment to full employment required to reverse the poverty, unemployment and underemployment now prevailing in so many parts of the globe. In a similar vein, the OECD launched its Jobs Study in 1994 to address the problem of mass unemployment across the industrially advanced economies, however, its recommendations excluded any consideration of a right to work, instead relying on a mix of conventional market based solutions to restore higher rates of employment growth and to by degrees eventually reduce unemployment to acceptable levels.

A right to work is the precondition for eliminating unemployment and its enormous costs and consequences. This is an imperative that is country specific. It is clear that such a right will not (beyond platitudes) be accorded the status of an internationally enforceable obligation. However, if the right is enshrined in Australian law it will mean that governments will be legislatively forced to pay more than lip service to unemployment. It will also mean that the Federal government would be responsible for developing and implementing an effective full employment policy.

Full employment was regarded as a standard objective of economic policy in the post war period. In the "golden age" between 1945 and 1970 full employment was for many Capitalist and Socialistic economies regarded as a reality (Arndt, 1994). There was only disagreement over how it was defined and how it was best achieved. From the early 1970s and the first oil price shock, unemployment has edged upwards and full employment has either been either redefined or ignored. Indeed, unemployment became an important tool for reducing inflation and stabilising inflation expectations. The right to work and full employment are inexorably linked. If there were a legislated right to work then governments would have to contemplate, as they did in the post 1945 period, how they could satisfy this right, and in the process realise full employment and eradicate unemployment. One consequence of a right to work would be a full employment economy and a full employment policy.

The implications of a full employment policy are considerable. First, it would mean greater use of labour and capital resources, as mentioned the single most significant efficiency reform that could be implemented in Australia is the elimination of unemployment. The direct financial benefits to the economy would be enormous; as indicated, of the order of 10 per cent additional GDP every year. Second, it would mean fewer fluctuations in aggregate economic activity. By legislation the government would be forced to generate jobs for those who are made redundant by the private sector. Such a situation would offer greater certainty for investors in the private sector since investment decisions would be undertaken in an ongoing full employment economy. Third, the extent of exclusion, poverty and costs associated with unemployment will be significantly reduced. It would be a policy that facilitated social inclusion rather than social exclusion. Fourth, governments would have to approach other economic goals from a full employment context, not, as currently, assume a given rate of unemployment and attempt to stabilise prices or reduce the current account deficit at this unemployment rate. Full employment would be the default setting for policy. Fifth, employers would be forced to contemplate how to better utilise labour and how to raise labour productivity through investment in machinery, technology and training. There would no longer be the emphasis upon cost cutting, lower wages and static efficiency gains associated with surplus labour conditions.

The Job Guarantee is the synthesis between the right to work and a full employment policy.