Sunday, August 24, 2014

South Australia reconstructed - for whose benefit?

Vanguard October 2014 p. 6
Ned K

In the last two weeks of winter, two food manufacturing plants announced loss of permanent full time jobs. The USA-owned Arnotts Biscuits said it was moving production from its Adelaide plant to the eastern states at a cost of approximately 120 full time jobs. A few days later Inghams announced that it was closing its turkey processing plant at McLaren Vale south of Adelaide with about 75 full time jobs going. Jobs in local car component factories continue to be eroded in the lead up to the complete closure of General Motors, Ford and Toyota. Uncertainty surrounds the future of the naval defence industry at Osborne near Port Adelaide as well.  

Such is the concern among working people in Adelaide about the loss of ‘blue collar’ full time jobs in this state that it is even discussed at the football as people sit at their seats waiting for the first bounce of the ball !

State Government Response

The South Australian Government response to this looming jobs crisis is to shift as much of the blame on to the federal government austerity measures as possible,  pin its hopes on an expansion of the mining industry and introduce austerity measures of its own. 

In the mining industry there are twelve substantial mines in the state either operating currently or in the near future.

The main one is Olympic Dam owned by BHP Billiton. Although this multinational corporation shelved its expansion of the mine for the time being, the existing extraction of uranium, copper and gold provided revenue of $1.8 billion in 2013-14. The company says the mine will have a life of 200 years. The other eleven mines are owned by large corporations either overseas owned or linked to overseas interests.

These are Prominent Hill copper and gold mine owned by OZ Minerals; Southern Iron Ore and Middleback Ranges owned by Arrium; Carrapateena copper and gold mine owned by OZ Minerals; Four Mile Uranium owned by a joint venture between Alliance Resources and General Atomics; Braemar province iron ore mine owned by eight companies including Havilah, Carpentaria and Minotaur; Mindarie Mineral Sands owned by Guandong Orient Zirconic; Kanmantoo Copper owned by Hillgrove Resources; Hillside Copper owned by Rex Minerals; Central Eyre Iron Ore Project owned by Iron Road; and Jacinth–Ambrosia Mineral Sands, owned by Iluka.

The combined profit for the combined lives of these 12 mines is enormous. For example the OZ Minerals copper and gold mine north of Woomera is expected to make $8.5 billion profit over its life of 24 years, $354 million per year. Arrium’s iron ore mines in the far north and north west of Whyalla is already making $686 million profit in 2013-14.

The state government will get royalties from these companies which the people in South Australia will demand are well spent in the interests of the people, Indigenous people in particular, on whose land the mining takes place.

However mining in the 21st Century is not a labour intensive industry on the same scale as the manufacturing base that spanned the period 1950 to the hundreds of closures of large, medium and small factories from the 1970s until this present day.

The other problem with mining jobs is that the mining companies go for the cheap option of fly in, fly out workforce with all the social dislocation that entails which has been well documented by mainstream commentators. Workers at these mining sites also face the problem of being employed by contractors who are forced in a race to the bottom to compete for contracts from the mine owners to maximise profits for the major mining company shareholders.

 Workplace Injuries And Attacks On Workers Compensation Entitlements

Mining jobs, perhaps less than in the coal mines of a former era, have their fair share of work related injuries. So does the construction industry and its workers who build the mines and infrastructure at the mine sites. Given the profits made by the mining companies, one would expect that a state Labor government’s backing of the mining industry as a partial saviour of the state economy would ensure that workers when injured will be looked after.

However the government appears to have embraced the austerity bug of other capitalist governments by introducing a new Work Cover Bill in to parliament which will cast the vast majority of workers on to the scrap heap at the two year mark. The government is quite open in its intention with the Bill which is to save money and reduce business Work Cover levies, at the expense of injured workers.

This attack on injured workers has also caused rifts within the trade union ranks with some larger unions closest to the ALP leadership supporting the Bill and others strongly opposing it. This division within trade unions could not come at a worse time as it has the potential to undermine the growing unity of workers in ALL unions and beyond against the more open, aggressive attacks on workers by the Abbott Government on behalf of the Business Council of Australia and the multinational corporations it represents.

When rank and file workers experience the impact of the cuts to Work Cover, they will be asking their union leaders for answers and an explanation. With a jobs crisis looming in the state, there will be extraordinary pressure on injured workers to hobble back to work before they are really fit to do so, just so they can keep some income coming in to feed their families and pay the bills.

 Attack On Job Security

 The second significant austerity measure by the state government is to further undermine job security of public sector workers. On 30 June 2014 the government’s “No Forced Redundancy” policy came to an end to be replaced by a redeployment policy with forced redundancy as a last resort. Removal of this policy will accelerate privatisation and outsourcing of public sector jobs, but more importantly reduce union membership in one of the few areas where workers have maintained unionism at average of about 50% or more in some areas of the public sector.

The attack on job security will remove one of the main reasons why public sector workers have remained union members while the private sector union membership in Australia careers to the USA like figure of 12% of the total workforce.

Young People Want A Future Too

At a recent demonstration at University of Adelaide on the occasion of a visit by Tony Abbott, one of the chants from the crowd was something along the lines of “F... you Abbott, we need a future too”.

Those students could arguably apply this chant to the state government too unless it reverses its latest austerity measures.

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