Doctor and activist

Mutual Obligation and ‘Noblesse Oblige’

18 March 2021

‘Mutual Obligation’ is the new buzz word for unemployed people.  If they are to get ‘welfare’ they have to be trying to get a job.   An index of this is to make a lot of job applications, that surely must be the bane of every employer in the land, with an obligation of job seekers to apply for 20 jobs a month and about 8 job seekers for every vacancy.

‘Noblesse Oblige’  is a French term dating from when English royalty spoke French after the Norman conquest (of 1066)  and refers to the benevolent, honourable behaviour considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank.  The term is so quaint and medieval that is often used ironically. But these days with the growing gap between rich and poor, and the lack of sanction on poor behaviour by the empowered class, it may be that old fashioned ethics is all that remains to help poorer people. And they are in short supply.

If there were mutual obligation, a government would be obliged to give its citizens a decent life.  In the 1950 and 1960s it was considered a government responsibility to get everyone a job and governments fell if the unemployment rate was over 1%.  In the 1980s when I worked at Sydney Water, it ran employment programmes for ex-prisoners, people who had been unemployed for more than 3 months, and people with disability.  The employment was for a 6 month term, and my job was to check that applicants were physically able to do the job.  There was a programme to separate sewage and rainwater in inner city areas and a pipe replacement programme.  Both of these programmes were simply canned.  The Apprentice School, which had about 180 apprentices including plumbers, electricians and carpenters was closed.   Sydney Water’s staff went from 17,000 to less than 3,000, and all the wages saved were simply turned into ‘dividends’ from the State Owned Enterprise’.  A tax in short.  Contractors were used, and mains repaired when they burst.  The government had out-sourced the work and outsourced the responsibility for employment.  The latter was less obvious. 

The Global market place that was created in 1944 to lessen the chance of wars allowed countries that produced things cheaper due to cheaper labour costs to prosper, and multinational corporations moved their factories.  The Americans call it ‘off-shoring’.  But our governments have acted as if none of this exists. An abstract entity, ‘The Economy’ is now responsible for job creation and unemployed people are responsible for getting them.  The government has outsourced job seeking to private corporations, and as we know, their duty is to make as much money for their shareholders as possible.  So if it is better to churn many people through short-term jobs to get a commission every time someone starts, hey that is the way to go.  So it is about how the rules are written.  If the old CES (Commonwealth Employment Service) clerks could find someone a job they did.  No one complained that they did not try to place people, and there was no incentive for them to do anything other than to try to place people in the best way possible.

I work with the Workers Compensation insurer, iCare, whose remit seems to be to minimise the cost of claims by saving on both claims managers and payments to injured people, and they are still paid a bonus if the ‘customer’ (i.e. patient) gets back to work, so there is pressure to force them back.  The CTP insurers are always in a total conflict of interest position. They get the premiums and every dollar they avoid paying out goes to their bottom lines.  The idea that a private market will fix things is complete nonsense.

Now we have revelations of gaming the system in the privatised job placement agencies.  The whole dismantling of the public system relies on the assumption that people will not work without incentive payments and private is always better than public.  I was in the public sector for many years as a salaried doctor and then in Sydney Water.  My experience was that the public sector did its job quite well and thought about better ways to act, undistracted by incentive schemes that would distort resource and time allocation.  The Dept. of Public Works built most of this state; Sydney Water built Warragamba Dam.

Privatised rorting is now a major industry draining resources from CTP insurance, Aged Care, the NDIS and now job search. This is not to mention over-priced private monopolies in toll roads, transport, land titles office or oligopolies gaming electricity supplies.

Will there ever be a government that rebuilds the public sector to put an end to this?  Will Labor just roll over as Liberal Lite as they did to get an extra $3.50 on ‘JobSeeker’?

But the key issue is that everyone has the right to decent life, and if the government cannot provide jobs, it should provide income support.  Noblesse Oblige.  As one of my more insightful friends said, ‘There is no shortage of work. Everyone I know can think of things that need doing. It is not a shortage of work, it is an unwillingness to pay’.

Watch this video re the privatised employment agencies.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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