Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Economic policy, Oz Politics > The fruitpickers lament

The fruitpickers lament

March 31st, 2011

Way back in the 1970s, I spent a couple of short spells as an unemployed layabout, one of which was ended when I took a job as a fruitpicker, making (IIRC) $2 a day, which even then wasn’t food money (I wasn’t very good at it). Fortunately, the job included some basic accommodation and all the blackberries you could eat. And, even then the whinging from employers who claimed to be unable to get enough pickers was an old story.

Now, I see Tony Abbott is pushing the same line, wanting to stop dole payments in any district where there are (claimed to be) vacant fruitpicking jobs. After four decades of this stuff, we ought by now to have some actual evidence. So, I have a few questions

First, has there ever been occasion when significant volumes of fruit have gone unpicked because of a shortage of pickers? [1]

Second, has there been any occasion on which demand for fruitpickers has been enough that a person with no prior experience could make substantially more than the minimum wage (currently about $15/hour). ? [2]

And if, as I strongly suspect, the answer to both questions is No, what does that tell us about the expectations of the whinging employers. (I suggest, a ready supply of below-minimum wage workers, available on demand when needed, and ready to be sacked the moment they are not)

fn1 Not a strike, or some particular farmer so objectionable that all ir workers quit

fn2 I know that experienced pickers can do a bit better than this, but that’s not the relevant issue here.

  1. Sam
    March 31st, 2011 at 13:41 | #1

    I spent the whole of 2001 as a fruitpicker. The answer to your first question is yes, in North Queensland many of the mango farms (at least that year) had their fruit drop off and rot due to a lack of workers. In response to this, the farmers said they were forced to reduce the rate of pay from $3 a bucket to $2. In response to a falling supply of labour, farmers reduced the wage. I like it when people “get” capitalism. At that time, working 8-10 hours was considered very luck to break $100 a day.

    There were also long periods of pointless unemployment due to the balkanized job search system. I rang the relevant agencies, like CSR, and Employment National, etc. They all said that each one of their branches, in each little outback town operated as little semi autonomous entities, that did not share records with one another, nor with their parent office. In short, I would have to call them all, every single office of every single company, throughout the state. After several rejections, I finally got a tentative “yes” from a company in Wondai. After driving down with a high school friend on a 1200 km trip from Townsville, we arrived at the office, only to be told that the position had been filled, but that positions open up all the time, and would I mind waiting around for a day or two? After two weeks in a grubby caravan park, and with our money running perilously low, we decided to try another town. I can’t remember how many horrible little places we went to but the answer was always the same; “Just wait around here for a little while and we will probably get you work.”

    Having read Marx’s Das Kapital vol 1 that summer, the words “Reserve army of the unemployed” kept flashing up in my mind. It became clear that these job agencies always ask you to stay, no matter how scarce the work is, just so they have a good selection of workers to choose from when they need it. In Bundaberg, we stopped in at a backpacker’s hostel. They said they could get us work in exchange for us staying there-paying $100 a week to sleep in a bunk bed. At that time, the average rent my friends in Brisbane were paying (for a house) was $70 a room. By now, my friend and I didn’t have $200 between us, so we had to drive home. Once back, we decided to simply call every farm in the phone book within a 200 km radius. In this way, we did eventually find work at a farm near Ayr.

    The work was reasonably physical, but not exhausting and I enjoyed it. I talked to my coworkers and none of them had been employed by a job company. Most of them had done the same, incredibly inefficient thing that I had been forced to do, and cold-called every farm they could. Some were living in another horrible backpacker’s hostel, paying extortionate rent to live in squalid conditions. After 6 weeks of living this way, a Canadian coworker decided to move out and get a house somewhere in Ayr. In response to this, the backpacker’s hostel forced the farmer to fire him, with the threat of sending no more workers otherwise. This was not a subtle suggestion on the part of the hostel manager, but an explicitly stated policy. The same stories were repeated in every town I worked. The failure of labour supply in this industry is not due to laziness on the part of the unemployed. Rather, a dysfunctional system for finding work is imposed by a set of Neo-liberal free-market ideologues acts in concert with grubby collusionist small town cockroach capitalists to deliver the least efficient possible outcome.

  2. rog
    March 31st, 2011 at 14:19 | #2

    Sam, as far as growers are concerned pickers are the bottom of the heap. Growers would be happy if you just picked the fruit without pay as growers are squeezed between agents and suppliers. It is far better to be a consumer.

  3. Jeepers Creepers
    March 31st, 2011 at 14:54 | #3

    Typical Quiggin is comparing apples to oranges!

  4. rog
    March 31st, 2011 at 15:00 | #4

    What is next on Abbott’s “reform” agenda? He seems to view poorly represented disadvantaged groups as easy pickings so I guess that all pensioners, whether they be aged, single mothers or disabled will be up for grabs.

  5. Freelander
    March 31st, 2011 at 15:20 | #5

    More of Tony Abbott’s appeal to his bigoted ‘middle Australia’ constituency.

    No concern from him about a variety of rip-offs perpetrated daily on ordinary Australians by banks, the finance industry, the supermarket duopoly, price fixing or other practices in the commercial world, overpaid executives finding numerous ways to suck shareholder value from small shareholders and superannuitants…

    If Abbott plans to make ordinary Australians better off it won’t be by clawing back the miserable benefits the unemployed and disabled get.

    Typical Abbott. Very Christian.

    As for poor farmers unable get enough cheap labour to pick their fruit… Isn’t the market solution to offer higher wages?

    Abbott doesn’t just seem to want to wind the clock back to the 1950s; he looks like he wishes we were back in the Middle Ages. That, indeed, was when Christianity ruled supreme.

  6. paul walter
    March 31st, 2011 at 16:25 | #6

    Following from the postings here, I’d add that Abbott’s attitude to the unemployed is the same as his attitude to Asylum seekers and Aborigines.
    It is a sado economic mentality and policies that guarantee the “Shawshank Redemption” type situation typified in the suicide of the nineteen year old lad early in the week at Curtin and I still think it points to some underlying problem in the neo con/neo lib pathology.

  7. Freelander
    March 31st, 2011 at 16:41 | #7

    These people, the Tony Abbotts of the world, are essentially re-heated social darwinists. All those who weren’t as lucky in life as they have been, deserve their situation and are where they are through their own choices and personal moral failings, just as their luck, in their minds, wasn’t luck at all, but due entirely to their own superior moral choices and behaviors. These are the people who talk about the undeserving poor; those who are responsible for their poverty and are undeserving of sympathy or help. The deserving poor, on the other hand, in their eyes, exist only as a conceptual possibility.

    Presumably, the disabled are now categorized into the undeserving disabled and the, more of theoretical interest, deserving disabled. Got to get those disabled from lazying about on their crutches and get back to work. Maybe they could shine shoes or sell boxes of matches on the street?

  8. paul walter
    March 31st, 2011 at 17:16 | #8

    Freelander, It’s true that all disabled are just malingerers and they just suffer from a range of severe or disabling conditions, medically confirmed, to avoid hard work and suck off the public teat.
    Am not a big fan of the Sceptic Lawyer blog, (for reasons the Sceptic Lawyer would know if not probably admit), but their contributor, Deux Ex Macintosh, is a disabled person living in Britain and (s)he has added a series of postings there describing the Cameron goverment’s purge on disabled in Britain and the effects suffered, including at the personal level, by disabled people there.
    It is not rational economics, just the debauched offspring, sado economics and one more step down “The Road to Serfdom” al la Germany, nineteen thirties.
    Unless you think driving people to suicide is a clever way of reducing the welfare bill.

  9. MikeH
    March 31st, 2011 at 18:06 | #9

    More dog whistling from Abbott.

    From the Australian

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/industrial-relations/abbott-work-plan-recycled-and-uncosted-says-pm/story-fn59noo3-1226031392409

    Victorian Fruit Growers association general manager John Wilson said the employment “crisis” in fruit picking was not as bad as people made out.

    Employers in some areas, such as Swan Hill, struggled to find people to pick stone fruit crops but travellers made up for the worker shortfall in other regions.

    “If we didn’t have the backpacker workers we would have a shortage but they are supplementing our workforce,” he said.

    BTW what are the allowable html tags for comments?

  10. Alice
    March 31st, 2011 at 18:24 | #10

    Funny you should say that Prof – before I started my illustrious career I headed down to Shepparton with some friends thinking we would cash in on fruit picking season and have an excuse for a holiday at the same time…slightly over the working age!
    I picked all day long – tomatoes – growing on the sides of hot muddy trenches – lunch was bread and…hot tomatoes and red flagon wine for some of the regulars. The toilet was a steel frame surrounded by hessian and a hole in the ground…the company was questionable…but they all picked faster than myself and my two friends. We earned each the grand total of $4 per person for the day – much less than the questionable company and much much less than the aboriginal pickers – and we pooled our money and bought fried rice for dinner, pitched a tent on the banks of the river to save money we didnt have ( full of leeches we discovered at bath time) and didnt go back the next day.

    Our fruit picking ambitions came to an abrupt end after that after we visited a pear farm and the accommodation was a cement bunker with 4 kapok mattresses in it on the floor and nothing else. We sort of gave up and headed home.

  11. March 31st, 2011 at 18:55 | #11

    Pr Q said:

    Now, I see Tony Abbott is pushing the same line, wanting to stop dole payments in any district where there are (claimed to be) vacant fruitpicking jobs.

    I know every day is Abbot-hate day at this site, but it is more interesting and informative to focus on his stronger arguments.

    The most significant part of Abbott’s proposal is the plan to move people on partial disability pensions into some kind of work. Together with a plan to extend income management to the non-indigenous population. The H-S reports:

    Mr Abbott flagged a dramatic shake-up of the disability pension to have a more well-directed payment for people whose disability might not be permanent.

    “What’s needed is a more sophisticated benefit structure that distinguishes between disabilities that are likely to be lasting and those that could be temporary and that provides more encouragement for people with some capacity for work,” he says.

    Mr Abbott said nearly 60 per cent of disability pensioners had potentially treatable mental health or muscular-skeletal conditions. He said the disability pension cost $13 billion a year and the number of people receiving it was about to pass 800,000.

    I can see merit in both policies. Plenty of mildly disabled demoralised middle-aged men out there languishing on the disabled pension who have given up on the job market. Pro-active efforts to get them back into the work-force would get them back into the cycle of active life and boost the Treasury.

    The Intervention’s income management policies are a great success amongst indigenes who are battling predatory hum-buggers. Scandanavian-style unconditional welfare has been a complete and utter disaster amongst indigenes, a fact that I acquired by direct observation.

    No reason why this policy can’t be applied to whitey, which will reduce substance abuse and help their families struggling to make ends meet. And stop the “anti-racist” brigade from flapping their jaws for a while.

    More generally, Pr Q and other like-minded souls might find they have more effect on their opponents if they lost the habit of travestying their opponents ideas, together with vilifying the spokesmen. (“bone-headed stupidity”)

    There is a reason that conservative ideas are popular amongst the general population – they accord with common sense. And they fit traditional moral notions of desert. Most importantly, productive work in essential for human dignity, particularly men.

    Dismissing or ignoring conservative philosophy is sure route to political irrelevancy.

  12. fred
    March 31st, 2011 at 19:01 | #12

    Offhand, without benefit of notes whatever, I can put these groups of Australians on a list that one time or another Abbott [and the COALition] have denigrated.
    Actually several times really.

    Women [particularly single mums, working women and those wishing reproductive freedom], homosexuals, unionists, followers of Islam, atheists, indigenous Australians, refugees, welfare recipients including those handicapped [I hope thats the right word], greeny/environmentalists and doubtless a few other groups that escape my memory.

    Nasty.

  13. Alice
    March 31st, 2011 at 19:08 | #13

    @MikeH
    I think the allowable limit is three links….Im not sure tho.

  14. CJ
    March 31st, 2011 at 19:49 | #14

    My experience of fruit-picking was that the piece rate was adjusted to ensure the average hourly rate was below about $12/hour. When I worked hard and got my rate up to about $40/hour, the manager changed the rate. I was berated by the other pickers, since the new rate meant many of them were earning only a couple of dollars per hour.

    In the end, I settled for a process of picking fruit and stockpiling it. I would then deliver it all in the last half hour, thus preventing the accounts manager from changing the price. They couldn’t offer too low a price first thing the next day, since pickers would not bother to come in for work.

    After a while, I was reassigned to a position grading fruit, which paid about $14/hour.

  15. Freelander
    March 31st, 2011 at 20:02 | #15

    paul walter :
    Freelander, It’s true that all disabled are just malingerers and they just suffer from a range of severe or disabling conditions, medically confirmed, to avoid hard work and suck off the public teat.

    Yes. I guess the disabled do that because they can’t all become senior bureaucrats (several of whom seem especially skilled at sucking long and hard).

    Mystery how running faster on the treadmill doesn’t seem to get you any further ahead?

    How the farmer’s must yearn for the good old days of transferable property rights in labour, back when the workers knew their place, toiled a fair seven days a week fourteen hour day, and never asked for extra pay.

  16. Freelander
    March 31st, 2011 at 20:12 | #16

    I can see Tony Abbott soon committing to: “If you elect me, I promise, by 2016, to leave no bigot’s object of hatred unvilified.” A sort of ‘No bigot left behind’ policy. I suppose he could claim to be bringing “Middle Australia” into the ‘broad church’.

  17. conrad
    March 31st, 2011 at 20:40 | #17

    “Pro-active efforts to get them back into the work-force would get them back into the cycle of active life and boost the Treasury.”

    If you can tell us how these might achieved Jack, that would great. It’s not clear to me what the use is of suggesting stick-stick-stick and no carrot, which is basically what Abbott is doing. Surely the current situation ($330 per week) is a big enough stick such that most people want to work (and who cares if, say, 1/3 of them don’t — worry about them after working out the problems for the 2/3 that do). It’s also worth noting that things like the government’s mental health initiative (1.5 billion) hasn’t done much for this group, so if Abbott thinks mental health is easily fixable, he’s wrong. In addition, given the crazy levels of obesity and being overweight in Australia, it’s not clear to me that solving all the problems caused by this (i.e., many of the muscular-skeletal conditions, diabetes, etc.) are going to be particularly easy to solve either.

  18. Alice
    March 31st, 2011 at 20:45 | #18

    @Freelander
    Freelander – you card! You mean like Costa (obese), Sartor (obese) and Tripodi (obese)????
    They have been sucking long and hard….its quite true.

  19. Alice
    March 31st, 2011 at 21:13 | #19

    So who here would vote for Abbott in all seriousness? I wouldnt – is there anyone?

  20. Ernestine Gross
  21. paul walter
    April 1st, 2011 at 01:50 | #21

    Re Ernestine Gross and the SMH article, a good article but they were very shy of calling a spade a spade, as to pol-economic terminology.
    It’s as probably as good as what we are going to get from Fairfax from now on, given their deterioration over the last few years.

  22. Ikonoclast
    April 1st, 2011 at 06:45 | #22

    Yep, it’s funny how the bosses support (crony) capitalism when it delivers negative gearing, government subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare to them. However, they are dead against market forces when it means paying a decent wage to workers.

  23. Ikonoclast
    April 1st, 2011 at 06:53 | #23

    Left to their own devices the capitalist bosses will always create a Northern Mariana Islands type setup (circa 1995-2001).

    “In testimony before the Senate, it was described that 91% of the private-sector workforce were immigrants, and were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage. Stories also emerged of workers forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks without plumbing. A Department of the Interior report found that “Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Abramoff_CNMI_scandal

    Look up “Casino Jack” and “Casino Jack – The United States of Money”.

  24. Jeepers Creepers
    April 1st, 2011 at 07:11 | #24

    Any person who supports ‘work for the dole’ has never talked to anyone who has worked in an outplacement firm!

    Getting a job is time intensive so yet here one is taking away time from the unemployed.

  25. Peter T
    April 1st, 2011 at 09:16 | #25

    For those dedicated to the view that any job is better than no job, see:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/146867/Workers-Bad-Jobs-Worse-Wellbeing-Jobless.aspx, including a link through to an Australian study with similar findings.

    For what it’s worth, my experience in bad jobs is that the workers take out their resentment in poor performance and petty sabotage. Employers respond with more stringent controls, and the situation spirals downwards from there (ask anyone who has worked in bottom level jobs in the UK). Unemployment may be less damaging than subterranean class warfare.

  26. Salient Green
    April 1st, 2011 at 12:18 | #26

    Given that there are over 600,000 looking for work and only 170,000 jobs, that is, four people looking for every job, Abbott might look a whole lot smarter if he came up with a solution to stop jobs going offshore.

  27. zoot
    April 1st, 2011 at 13:04 | #27

    I agree with Salient Green – with an unemployment rate of 5% the real problem is not enough jobs.
    If you only have jobs for 95% of your workforce, punishing the other 5% is the very definition of flogging a dead horse.

  28. Freelander
    April 1st, 2011 at 13:16 | #28

    5% is natural unemployment. Not quite sure why it is natural for them to be unemployed, but there you go. You can’t have real unemployment. After all that wouldn’t conform to economic theory.

  29. derrida derider
    April 1st, 2011 at 14:45 | #29

    The thing I really worry about with this sort of rhetoric coming out of politician’s mouths is not that they’re cynical liars who know they’re talking rubbish, but that they genuinely believe the rubbish. If it’s the former they’ll implement policies that look really tough but don’t in truth do a great deal of harm beyond wasting taxpayers’ money (work for the dole and income management are both extremely expensive to do on a large scale). If it’s the latter they can really hurt lots of people.

    Take disability pension, for example. Do you know the baby boomer cohort gets DSP at about HALF the rate their fathers did at the same age? That ALL of the growth in DSP in the past decade is a result of raising the age pension for women (some of them now claim DSP where they all used to just automatically get age pension), despite the fact that the number of people in the prime age for DSP receipt (over 50 and under age pension age) has grown very rapidly. That you now have to be assessed as permanently incapable of even part time or intermittent work before they’ll give you DSP (so much for Tony’s rubbish about “treatable conditions”). That as a consequence a large slab – on projections eventually to be a majority – of long term dole recipients have serious disabilities that prevent them actually holding down a fulltime permanent job?

    Oh yeah, the self-serving farmers’ myths about fruit picking were about in my youth too, and were simlarly refuted by my own direct experience.

  30. conrad
    April 1st, 2011 at 16:19 | #30

    DD,

    there must be more going on than you are suggesting, because if you look at cross-cultural comparisons, then you get massive differences in rates. For example, in Hong Kong there are about 43000 people that are on welfare due to ill health or permanent disability. Since the population there is about 1/3 of that of AUstralia, that translates into 129,000 people, or 6 times less people on these pensions for illness than in Australia. Are we really six times as ill as HK? I don’t think so — people there are on average older than Australia, although they look vastly healthier since they are generally not all overweight.

  31. Salient Green
    April 1st, 2011 at 17:17 | #31

    I don’t know about Hong Kong but here in Australia, apart from there not being the jobs in the first place, there are not enough part time jobs or employer flexibility which would suit those with partial disability. And who would want to employ someone who has a disability, with the risks of Workcover claims, when there are plenty of able bodied applying for the job.

    No one would employ me with my back, at my age. It’s just as well I am self employed and can work around my injury – shorter hours, lifting less – but others…. it’s just cruel to drop their DSP and force them to go out looking for a job.

  32. Dan
    April 1st, 2011 at 21:28 | #32

    @Jack Strocchi Jack, when there aren’t enough jobs to go around how do you expect to find employment for an additional x thousand on DSP? NAIRU logic has captured the political class and they collectively believe full employment is 5% and this is required to discipline inflation. So Abbot is a pretty nasty person really, vilifying those without a job, yet supporting a system that creates (Labor is the same) the macro economic conditions that cause that unemployment.

  33. Alice
    April 1st, 2011 at 21:52 | #33

    Abbot is the king of cruel. He brought us workvchoices and condemned youth to casual jobs and living ten years longer under their parents care. The parents are too busy supporting their kids to save for their retirement. Abbott is no-one’s friend. He is just a measly minded poor excuse of why he wouldnt ever get the votes at federal level that OFarrell got at state level. Abbott simply couldnt get his mind around governing for all becaise he is constructed from a fringe view and spent years being an attack dog for Howards brand of elitism and media sensation soliciting. Abbott governs for the bogan vote, a minority.
    He hasnt got much between those big ears except a wrote learned script (and is a pretty sad excuse for a supposedly religious man) and even less of value comes out of his big mouth.

  34. Freelander
    April 2nd, 2011 at 01:07 | #34

    Abbott has been letting his chest hair draft his policies. I am waiting for the budgie-smuggler’s policies. Can only be a matter of time.

  35. GerryG
    April 2nd, 2011 at 11:35 | #35

    I sympathise with Alice and all novice fruitpickers. It’s hard yakka and in the beginning there’s little to show for it. I did one stint on pears in the Goulburn Valley – never again. But there are those who stick it out, learn the ropes and do make a reasonable income; I’ve seen them. But like every other enterprise you’ve got to put in the effort – in this case lots of it. I bet even Professors have to put in time and effort to get their positions – it’s just economics. Economics at work haven’t changed since the caveman. The biggest and ugliest ate well. The rest had to scatch in the mud for their leavings. And when the big hairy ones fought among themselves, everyone suffered, including some of them. That’s why laws were invented to make them share. Then we learnt that when the big hairy ones were allowed to rampage everyone on their side lived better, and when they were restrained, there was less to share. So economic politics is the art of finding the acceptable balance between growth and distribution.

  36. April 2nd, 2011 at 14:08 | #36

    Hi All,
    for those interested a small group has already been form in Brisvegas to oppose the massive transformation of welfare already under way. Our blog is at http://assemblyfordignity.wordpress.com/. Politically we are from below and to the Left.
    cheers
    Dave

  37. paul walter
    April 2nd, 2011 at 14:54 | #37

    As for personal experience, mine came at a vege patch north of Adelaide, similar story to above, but I’d remark at the remarkable capacity for work that defeated me; the lack of even a drop of sweat or loss of rhythm when I was lathered, from the people I was working with, European migrants.
    Has me in mind of a doco I saw years later, where an African academic stayed with subsistence peasants in Ethiopia; how they could live and work hard on the smell of an oily rag, while, as someone coming from a western lifestyle, he was reduced to helplessness within days

  38. paul walter
    April 2nd, 2011 at 14:57 | #38

    btw, good point Dave. In the end it’s welfare bashing in one form or another and its Abbott’s one talent, the ability to be able to exploit the baser instincts of the Hansonist sado mentality.

  39. Salient Green
    April 2nd, 2011 at 18:15 | #39

    In my experience most farmers are fair to their workers but I have known a few real stinkers, like the ones who expected their grapes to be picked while under the vines was a mess of caltrop and innocent weed. And the lettuce farmer who somehow still manages to pay below the minimum wage and charges the backpackers $100 per week for shared sleeping quarters and communal living area. You would not be surprised to learn that the farmer lives in a mansion and drives a BMW.

    It’s not rocket science but I find plenty of workers like mothers who can only work certain hours, like school hours or an arvo twice a week, and casuals who have other casual work. It takes a bit of organising but these people really want to work as long as it suits their other commitments and I reap the rewards of an appreciative workforce.

    In the future as my recent plantings start to bear, I intend to buy some old caravans where uni students and backpackers can stay for free. We’ll have barby’s and pissups with them and make it a positive experience for all. I’ve done this before, seasonal workers want to have a good time and so they should for the money they get paid.

  40. Alice
    April 2nd, 2011 at 21:12 | #40

    @Freelander
    Freelander in the 1890s after the first big crash when they decided the best way to get rid of the unemployed was to send them to the country in search of work – at least they had the common decency to pay for a one way train ticket.

    That sod Abbott wouldnt even bother to do that.

  41. Freelander
    April 2nd, 2011 at 22:01 | #41

    @Alice

    The one way ticket – that’s my favorite rural adjustment scheme. However, in that case the ticket is the other way and is for serially bludging farmers who want the public to support their farming life style and their inability to manage their business profitably, with subsidies and cheap loans. Why doesn’t Tony Abbott want to wrench them from the public teat? Surely each of them, and they tend to be repeat offenders because able farmers don’t need the serial support, must cost more than the pittance provided to someone who is unemployed.

  42. Alice
    April 2nd, 2011 at 22:27 | #42

    @Freelander
    Or how about the really seriously bludging politicon bozons on the public teat?

  43. Freelander
    April 2nd, 2011 at 23:45 | #43

    @Alice

    They are rusted on so hard that any attempt at removal might cause serious injury to the host.

  44. paul2
    April 3rd, 2011 at 04:23 | #44

    My 35 year old son is one of the 5%. He is low level Aspergers (obsessive and prone to occasional verbal outbursts). Overweight and shy,he has managed the equivalent of a few years paid work since leaving school in 1994. He is artistically talented with high verbal intelligence but only average general reasoning ability. While he has completed an Advanced Diploma in Art and Design, his obsessive traits limit his capacity to progress in that field.
    On the basis of his diagnosis he has finally been accepted as a client by a specialist employment service provider who have freed him from the inanities of work for the dole, but he does not meet the test for a disability pension, nor does he qualify for jobs specially reserved for the disabled. His agency have sent him along to scores of job interviews which he has dutifully attended, but his meagre work record and vague bulky demeanour do not impress. The only work he has found has been work he has found himself: car detailing, pizza delivery, stuffing envelopes and getting seasonal work as a removalists offsider. He remains part of the reserve army of unemployed, to be called on by pressured contractors.

    Fortunately, we are able to accommodate him in a downstairs flat, and subsidise his efforts at having a life – his old car, his CD collection and his repetitive artwork. His indulged obsessionality provides some cushioning from the depressing aspects of his situation. If he were on his own, he would be going mad in a government flat, or on the streets.
    In the likely event of an Abbott Government, we hope that his diagnosis will continue to work in his favour. He has no disability pension to lose, and will only be affected if that Government decides that his condition is some sort of pretence invented by lefty psychologists to protect malingerers from their just deserts. Here’s hoping.

  45. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:33 | #45

    Given that Abbott and the Howard government had eleven years of bashing the poor and disadvantaged one might ask about Tony’s ‘new’ disadvantaged bashing policies why aren’t they already in place?

    Unfortunately, regardless of whatever poor and disadvantaged policies people like Abbott do have introduced they will never be enough, because those groups need to be periodically paraded before the public eye as undeserving and the target of bile to inflame and satisfy one of his bigot sub-constituencies so they will continue to support him.

  46. Alice
    April 3rd, 2011 at 16:19 | #46

    @Freelander
    Well Freelander if TA does get in and get enough rope to implement his worker bashing deregulating and tax decimating (fro some) free market policies, this alone will almost guarantee his bigoted sub constituents will end up in the dole queue anyway…and it will be goodbye Tony.

    You know people can change (and not only that they can change en masse), cant they Freelander?

  47. derrida derider
    April 3rd, 2011 at 16:25 | #47

    paul2, I have a very similar story with an adult son; Aspies do find life hard, and a lot of their talent goes to waste. Like you I’m fortunate to earn enough to help him a bit, but god knows where he’d be if I wasn’t.

    Our society does a reasonable job with severely disabled adults (though yes, I know services for them are very underfunded too), but we waste an awful lot of human capacity by failing to accomodate the differnces from milder disability.

  48. Eskay
    April 3rd, 2011 at 18:17 | #48

    “Mr Abbott said nearly 60 per cent of disability pensioners had potentially treatable mental health or muscular-skeletal conditions.”

    Citation required.

    Huge gap in clinical medicine between potentially and actually treatable, and nowhere more so than mental health and musculo-skeletal problems, many of which remain poorly understood and not particularly treatable.

    Those on the DSP have already been seriously assessed, by more than one person, including a relevant medical specialist and (usually separately) a psych assessment, and are generally subject to random re-assessment in some form every so often, at the whim of the bureaucracy and its political masters.

    Where is the fat in this system? Is this a decent way to treat these people? How many hoops do they have to jump through before vicious political headkickers and morality play thugs start accepting the reality of their situation and leaving them alone?

    Is Mr Abbott admitting that during the 11 years of the Howard government, they failed to properly deal with this problem? Or has it suddenly and conveniently become a problem only since Labor took office?

    If Mr Abbott genuinely wants bring a little more dignity to the disabled (which I seriously doubt he does), he could try not repeatedly humiliating and threatening them, and generally using them as a soft and disposable target to feed his unquenchable political ambitions.

    —————

    I note the usual superficial objection has been made on this thread about how Australia has a higher rate of DSP recipients than [selectively chosen country]. The usually explicit inference being that we are too generous. Never is the opposite possibility considered, that the comparison country’s policy might be too restrictive and harsh, leaving substantial numbers of sick, vulnerable individuals struggling in its wake.

    Might also want to consider the real world consequences of endless further ‘crack downs’ on alleged waste and fraud in the welfare system. The ol’ margin of error and specificity problems. Soothing rhetoric about running the fairest system we can, etc, just don’t cut it at the coal face.

  49. Jill Rush
    April 3rd, 2011 at 22:02 | #49

    I wonder what happened to the Pacific Solution for rural workers – which I vaguely recall was put forward in the Howard years. The idea was that Pacific Islanders were recruited for specific rural tasks and then sent home afterwards. Refugees have also filled in for this role too.

    Of course if there were decent wages for people who worked for farmers then there would be no crisis in the workforce and Salient Green is right – there needs to be other benefits. It is a long time since I took work in the grape industry and I remember it reasonably fondly – because the rates and so on were sweetened for me and my buddy who just happened to be a gorgeous blonde woman who for some strange reason was always having marriage proposals made for no reason.

  50. April 6th, 2011 at 20:06 | #50

    Jill, that scheme is full steam ahead, there are plenty of 416 visa workers spread around, everybody involved seems quite happy.

    Paul Walter makes a good point @ 37. Middle class westerners often have a remarkable incapacity for actual work. Almost any internet thread on fruit picking will be bristling with precious uni students/graduates whining because they were unable to make the grade as a field hand.

  51. Freelander
    April 6th, 2011 at 20:36 | #51

    @Steve at the Pub

    Extreme poverty makes people easily exploitable. Not only do 416 visas allow us to bring them over here to exploit locally, their importation provides vigorous competition adding to wage flexibility and putting pressure on our overly pampered local workforce, ‘incentivizing’ them to become truly flexible.

    Is 416 great! For former South Africans who emigrated here after that country went bung, must be like the good old days when the flexible labour used to be allowed to come in to work, from the ‘homelands’. Maybe we could even build little townships to house them?

  52. paul walter
    April 6th, 2011 at 20:51 | #52

    Paul 2′s comment pulled me up. Out of tens perhaps hundreds of billions of brain cells, a handful are misaligned and someone is put through what his lad has to go through.
    SATP, its not just whities either. Remember the story of the Afro English Academic I mentioned?
    Living in Ethiopia with tribespeople there, his twenty stone plus frame was reduced to a shivering hulk within a month, while the people living there who ate of the same meagre diet; less than him, I actually remember, since he was a guest, some how were able to get out and “do it all again” the following day, not a drop of sweat, while our hero sat stunned, apathetic and exhausted, after an hour or less of work.

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