I was interested to see both Peter Strong from the Council of Small Business Association, and Leith van Onselen from MacroBusiness, calling for the restoration of the old Commonwealth Employment Service (CES). It is a view I have had myself for quite some time.
As Leith writes, when John Howard privatised the system in the 1990s, the idea was that by paying employment service providers for each person they placed into a job, the process would become more efficient.
Unfortunately, the result was that a parasitic industry developed, with around 40 privately run employment agencies earning millions of dollars in fees.
Peter Strong has expressed the same view, saying that the privatised system was a failure. It has created a few millionaires off the back of the unemployed, but delivered a scheme which is failing job seekers. He has called for the creation of a new CES.
I agree. Privatising the CES made the openers of the new Job Search companies rich, but achieved no public good. It is money for jam, but there is no real driver for them to properly look after those who are unemployed. The financial incentive is for them to do it on the cheap. Unemployed people have told me the agencies are pretty much useless.
I also think there could be a very important role for a re-established CES in returning some integrity to our migrant worker visa programs. At the moment too many employers are rorting the “labour market testing” requirements that theoretically mean that they have to look for Australian workers before being allowed to bring in overseas workers. They advertise skilled jobs at unattractively low rates of pay, refuse to provide any on-the-job training, reject applicants without due cause, etc.
A re-established CES could be a genuine honest broker. Employers would be required to ask the CES to find them a suitable applicant before being allowed to bring in an overseas worker. If the CES can find someone suitable, the job goes to the local, as it should. If the CES can’t, the employer can bring in someone from overseas. Furthermore, if an unemployed person unreasonably rejects a job offered to them by the CES, it would have consequences for them. The integrity of the employment market would be improved all round.
The Hon. Kelvin Thomson
Sustainable Australia Party