I enjoyed Christian Kerr’s article on dodgy unemployment figures, but he has only twigged to one of the dodgy methods – the “one hour” definition – which artificially reduce the unemployment figures from two million to 600,000.

So what else is wrong with Australia’s monthly unemployment figures? As Sir Humphrey Appleby would say: “The language of government: Restructure the base from which the statistics are derived without drawing public attention to the fact.” Translation: “Fiddle the figures.”

Very few commentators appear to be aware of the ABS annual survey of unemployment, “Persons Not in the Labour Force,” which clearly shows that there are at least two million unemployed. Most commentators have missed the point that the ABS carries out this survey because they have no faith in “their” monthly survey, “Labour Force Australia.”

Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) figures, when it closed and privatised in 1996, had two million unemployed registered. These were once used as a reliable indication of unemployment. That is, of course, until they became embarrassingly high.

They were jettisoned in the mid 1980s by Labor in favour of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) monthly figures from the ABS survey “Labor Force Australia,” which – because of the questions asked by ABS survey staff – effectively exclude the hidden, the discouraged job seekers as well as ruling out large numbers of others who are unemployed. They also do not include the 600,000+ Australians forced to work fewer hours than they would like.

This is illustrated by the ABS monthly survey questions.

For example, if you have worked one hour for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind during the survey/reference week, you are counted as being employed. You could be on the dole or work one hour as a casual and still not be counted as being unemployed. You could also work for one hour or more with or without pay in a family business (i.e. unpaid family business) or on a farm, and still not be counted as unemployed.

If you are unemployed and have not …

(a) registered with Centrelink as a job seeker,
(b) contacted an employment agency;
(c) contacted prospective employers;
(d) answered a newspaper advertisement for a job;
(e) checked Centrelink touch screens
(f) checked factory notice boards;
(g) advertised or tendering for work;
(h) contacted friends or relatives;

… you would not be regarded as having “actually” or “actively” looked for work. This raises the question of how or whom one is supposed to apply for almost non-existent jobs. Officially (ABS) there are about 130,000 vacancies (February 2005) ,or about one job for about every 20 unemployed, nationwide at present. The ratio varies of course according to your employment skill level.

Tomorrow in Crikey: more magic tricks.

Peter Fray

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