Tony Abbott’s Green Army whitewash
IT sounds like a great idea on the surface: take a group of 15,000 young unemployed people between the ages of 17 to 24 years old and get them working outdoors to save the environment.
But the Coalition’s green exterior is merely a mask for a massive whitewashing exercise designed to create a cheap, underpaid source of labour forced into doing our country’s dirty work.
The Coalition has championed the Green Army as the main centerpiece of its so-called ‘direct action’ model, which, if it can get through the Senate, proposes to cut CO2 emissions to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.
The Green Army, which began on 1 July, is a six-month conservation program administered by external, private or not-for-profit providers and subcontractors.
The government has said that the program will be ‘voluntary’, but given its new punitive measures to cut off the Youth Allowance to jobseekers every six months, it’s hard to see how any young person could avoid signing up for the program if they’re desperate for money.
No formal training provided
Although the program is billed as a great training opportunity for young people, there is no requirement for the providers to give the participants any formal sort of training in the form of a traineeship or apprenticeship.
Despite this, the workers in the Green Army program will be paid less than the minimum wage, with rates sets at between $10.14 and $16.45 an hour, based on the training wage.
On top of that, they won’t be able to receive their Youth Allowance while they’re on the program, and will be required to work full-time hours, leaving them no time to attend interviews or participate in job search activities.
Even more concerning, the government has moved to pass a Bill that will exclude the workers from coverage under the Fair Work Act, meaning they’re not entitled to the usual rights to annual leave, public holidays, or protection from being unfairly dismissed or discriminated against in the workplace.
It also looks like they might fall through the cracks of our workplace health and safety scheme, because guess what? The government is exempting them from Australia’s work health and safety laws too!
If this is truly a genuine training opportunity for Australia’s young, then why not put them on a proper traineeship with the possibility of a real job at the end of it? Instead, the so-called Green Army will be forced into picking up rubbish and doing other unskilled labour when they could be out looking for a secure and more permanent job.
These workers deserve proper wages, but the program simply hasn’t been given enough funding to make that happen.
A clever act of switcheroo
To pay for the $525 million program over the next four years, the Coalition has engaged in a clever act of switcheroo, by axing about $484 million from the Landcare budget.
Landcare is a proven conservation method engaging genuine community volunteers in environment projects. So, not only is the Green Army a bad employment program, but it’s also bad for the environment, by taking away much-needed funds from existing conservation efforts.
The way to get young people into meaningful employment is to give them the skills and training they need to get a leg up in the job market – not to waste their time on picking up rubbish, work designed primarily to keep them busy but for no other meaningful purpose.
If the government was serious about the environment and youth unemployment, then it would keep the carbon tax, put funding back into Landcare, and fund fairly paid traineeships for young Australians who are out of work.
Until then, it’s up to the union movement to call out the Green Army for what it really is – just a whitewash.
Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.