THE latest Census figures have confirmed unemployment rates in the Latrobe local government area are significantly higher than the state and national average at 7.9 per cent, compared to 5.4 and 5.6 per cent, respectively.
The additional Census 2011 data, which was released on 30 October, also showed only 54.7 per cent of Latrobe Valley residents worked full-time, versus the state and national average of almost 60 per cent.
According to Monash University Gippsland lecturer Dr Olga Bursian, this was directly related to the fact the industry sector had the greatest number of independent technicians and trade workers.
“In Latrobe Valley, this affects building and trades people who are forced to operate from commercial contracts that pays them by the hour,” Dr Bursian said.
“There was an inquiry this year about the fact that Australia has the highest rate of insecure jobs in the developed world; only 62 per cent of employed people have security and leave entitlements… this entails a lot of financial and other hardships for families and individuals.”
The Census data showed in the Valley, a majority of employed persons aged 15 years and over were employed as technicians and trades workers, at 18.9 per cent, compared to the state and national averages of 13.9 and 14.2 per cent, respectively.
In contrast, there were far fewer professionals working locally, at just 15 per cent compared to the state average of 22.3 per cent.
“That is not necessarily a bad thing, but does show that there are less opportunities for professionals than there might be in the city,” Dr Bursian said.
“Many people would choose a rural lifestyle if there were jobs; government investment in schools, health and other essential services would greatly impact on this and would serve to stimulate other economic activity.”
For Dr Bursian, a keen observer of the region’s labour market changes, many of the Valley’s employment issues could have been mitigated by “intelligent government investment”.
She said the unemployment situation locally was due to, in the first place, a lack of jobs.
“In regional areas, logically, there are fewer businesses and job opportunities than urban centres; the Valley was one of the most prosperous regions of Victoria until the State Electricity Commission of Victoria was privatised,” she said.
“This is why if a region has an industry, it should be safeguarded and supported by intelligent government investment.”
Dr Bursian also commented on the higher number of community and personal service workers in the Latrobe local government area, at 10.3 per cent compared to the rest of the state at 9.3 per cent and the country at 9.7 per cent.
“This reflects partly the essential public services provided by the local and state governments; personal service workers may be casual but the community and health sectors provide more secure network than other sectors,” she said.
“Governments should not cut funding to public services such as housing and TAFE; only they can borrow at very low, non-commercial interest rates and investing would have enormous spin-offs in the region.”
Despite this, the future is not entirely bleak for the Valley.
“We have fabulous boutique food production and are poised to become the food bowl of Victoria,” Dr Bursian said.
“Gippsland industry, trade unions and public services such as Monash University, TAFEs and government departments have collaborated for several years in transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy.”