Job relief: a slogan for new thinking?

Back in August, The Australian ran an article under the headline Coronavirus: job relief assured after ALP commits (26 August, p. 6). The article actually refers to Parliament’s agreement to continue “JobKeeper” payments beyond the initial phase introduced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I thought that “job relief” might also be a neat slogan for a campaign to reduce working hours. My thinking went no further and I didn’t bother to write anything about it.

More recently, the rhetoric from both Government and Opposition has been anything but “job relief” in that sense—much of it has concerned how to create more jobs. Of course getting people into jobs makes perfect sense within a paradigm in which providing for oneself and living in dignity depend on having a job. And the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic makes sense of things (like making work) that might not have made sense before.

Over the same period, there’s been a kerfuffle over the Government’s Jobs-Ready Graduate Programme, supposed by the Government to encourage students to take up courses leading to skills required by future jobs and criticised by almost everyone else for being poorly informed, poorly thought-out, and unfair to students wanting to pursue the arts. I don’t plan to analyse the policy here but the associated rhetoric around choice of careers got me thinking again about “job relief”.

I’ve been in the fortunate position of having passion and aptitude in a field (computing) in high demand in the economy in which I happen to live, such that I’ve had work that I largely enjoy and that gives me ample economic reward. At the same time I had—and still have—a passion for writing and music that the economy (and perhaps my aptitude) has not given me so much opportunity to indulge, from which I have some of the perspective of those arts students that the Government intends to turn into scientists and engineers for the good of the economy.

Through my own job relief programme—part-time work—I’ve been able to put more time into writing, spend more time in my local community, experiment with some projects that might or might not succeed, and now take on a more significant role in the Society for Creative Anachronism. So for me “job relief” has not been so much about doing less work but about being able to choose what my work is, rather than have it dictated to me by economic needs.

All this suggests a different perspective on the jobs, jobs, jobs rhetoric that dominates political conversation. Yes, we’d all like to have something to do that makes a contribution and keeps us engaged with society, and so much the better if it exercises our passions and talents. But rather than think about how we can create jobs—any job—why not think about how we can give ourselves the opportunity to do the work that we want to do?

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