VCOSS recently published its 2016-17 State Budget Submission Putting people back in the picture. A series of blogs will examine some of the proposals in the submission.
Work plays a central role in the lives of many Victorians, providing people with income and contributing to their sense of identity and wellbeing. However, not every Victorian has the security of stable employment. There are high rates of unemployment and underemployment, particularly among vulnerable groups such as young people,  people with disability and Aboriginal Victorians, combined with a continued rise in long-term unemployment across Australia. With only one job available for every five people looking for paid work in Australia, it’s clear that more needs to be done to create local job opportunities and support vulnerable people to gain meaningful, secure work.
Victorian workers are also directly impacted by many of Australia’s recent industry restructures which have resulted in mass job losses, such as the automotive industry, Alcoa, Qantas and SPC Ardmona. Many of these site closures have, or will occur, in parts of Victoria already experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and higher unemployment, compounding the difficulties faced by many of these displaced workers when trying to gain new jobs.
While unemployment can affect anyone, it is people already facing disadvantage who are likely to be worst affected. Vulnerable groups in society, who may face multiple and complex barriers to employment, and are more likely to experience unemployment and underemployment. They are also more likely to enter into insecure work, where they face reduced protection from employment termination, reduced access to benefits and leave entitlements, and receive lower pay.
The Victorian government has introduced a number of welcome initiatives to help tackle unemployment, such as increasing funding for the Back to Work package, and investment in the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund and Melbourne’s North Innovation and Investment Fund to create employment opportunities for regional Victorian communities and communities affected by the manufacturing closures. The state government can further support vulnerable Victorians facing disadvantage to overcome barriers to work and gain meaningful, secure employment by developing and funding a Workforce Participation Plan. The VCOSS Tackling Unemployment paper proposes a Victorian Workforce Participation Plan built on four interrelated strategies:
- Build vulnerable people’s skills and capabilities – If people are supported to participate fully in all levels of education, become job-ready and connect with suitable employers, they will have a much better chance of finding and maintaining secure work.
- Create the jobs vulnerable people need, where they need them – The government could pursue economic development strategies that prioritise employment-intensive growth and yield jobs that can be filled by vulnerable Victorians, are secure and sustainable, and are in locations where jobs are scarce and accessible for vulnerable people.
- Develop inclusive and flexible workplaces – The government could encourage employers to hire a more diverse workforce, adopt inclusive workplace practices and create equity targets for groups who are under-represented in the workforce.
- Improve labour mobility and availability – The government has announced some improvements to transport infrastructure, which would be supported by further investment in affordable housing in job-rich locations and increased access to quality affordable childcare and support for carers.
In addition to developing and funding a workforce participation plan, the VCOSS 2016 -17 State Budget Submission, putting people back in the picture, outlines a number of priorities that help people facing disadvantage gain work and skills including:
- Help young people find work through Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)
- Help people facing disadvantage to gain vocational skills
- Create job pathways for people facing disadvantage through inclusive public employment targets
- Help people facing disadvantage find work through social enterprises
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Australia, September 2015, cat.no. 6202.0, 2015.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability and Labour Force Participation, 4433.0.55.006, 2012.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, exploring the gap in labour market outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 4102.0, 2014.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed – Electronic Delivery October 2015, ‘Table 15B. Unemployed persons by Duration of unemployment since last full-time job and Sex – Trend, Seasonally adjusted and Original’, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001, ABS, 2015.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Job Vacancies Australia, August 2015, cat. no. 6354.0, ABS, 2015
 OECD, OECD Employment Outlook 2014, op. cit.
 The Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, http://www.rdv.vic.gov.au/regional-jobs-and-infrastructure-fund
 Melbourne’s North Innovation and Investment Fund, http://www.business.gov.au/grants-and-assistance/regional-innovation/MNIIF/Pages/default.aspx