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Inventing Unemployment

Regulating Joblessness in Twentieth-Century Australia

By: Anthony O'Donnell
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Published: 12-12-2019
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 200
ISBN: 9781509928194
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £50.00
Online price : £45.00
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About Inventing Unemployment

This book examines the evolution of Australian unemployment law and policy across the past 100 years. It poses the question 'How does unemployment happen?'. But it poses it in a particular way. How do we regulate work relationships, gather statistics, and administer a social welfare system so as to produce something we call 'unemployment'? And how has that changed over time?

Attempts to sort workers into discrete categories – the 'employed', the 'unemployed', those 'not in the labour force' – are fraught, and do not always easily correspond with people's working lives. Across the first decades of the twentieth century, trade unionists, statisticians and advocates of social insurance in Australia as well as Britain grappled with the problem of which forms of joblessness should be classified as 'unemployment' and which should not. This book traces those debates. It also chronicles the emergence and consolidation of a specific idea of unemployment in Australia after the Second World War. It then charts the eventual unravelling of that idea, and relates that unravelling to the changing ways of ordering employment relationships.

In doing so, Inventing Unemployment challenges the preconception that casual work, self-employment, and the 'gig economy' are recent phenomena. Those forms of work confounded earlier attempts to define 'unemployment' and are again unsettling our contemporary understandings of joblessness. This thought-provoking book shows that the category of 'unemployment', rather than being a taken-for-granted economic variable, has its own history, and that history is intimately related to our changing understandings of 'employment'.

Table Of Contents

1. A Disorganised Labour Market
The British Context
Social Surveys, the Casual Worker and the Problem of Unemployment
The Employment Relationship in Australia
Regularising Work in Australia
2. Defining Unemployment: Pre-War Endeavours
The Census
Trade Unions
Social Insurance
3. The Labour Exchange Solution
The Labour Exchange in British Social Thought
The Labour Exchange in Pre-War Australia
Wartime Labour Administration and the Directorate of Manpower
4. Social Policy in Wartime
Designing an Unemployment Benefits Scheme
The White Paper on Full Employment
5. Unemployment in a Time of Full Employment
The Post-War Labour Market
Statistics: Counting Unemployment
The Work Test: Regulating Unemployment
Unemployment and Industrial Disputes
6. Limiting Unemployment
The Married Woman
The Remote-Area Aboriginal Australian
The 'Dole Bludger'
7. Reinventing Unemployment
The Demise of the Standard Employment Relationship
Towards an 'Active Society'
From Work Test to Activity Test
Making Agreements
Enforcing Compliance
Unemployment Benefit or Basic Income? Manipulating the Means Test
8. Marketing Unemployment
The CES in the Post-War Labour Market
The End of the Public Employment Service in Australia: The First Phase
The End of the Public Employment Service in Australia: The Second Phase
The Evolution of the Job Network
Contracts All the Way Down?


“It is often thought that people are either employed or unemployed. Inventing Unemployment helps to unpack why and how a rigid divide between the two categories is not particularly helpful in understanding either one ... Inventing Unemployment is an important and compelling book which furthers understandings of the employment–welfare nexus.” –  Gaby Ramia, University of Sydney, Australia, Journal of Industrial Relations

“[A] meticulously researched and detailed examination of Australian unemployment law, administration and policy settings over the last century … Social policy researchers, historians, public policy scholars and practitioners will find much value in the thought-provoking analysis offered by O'Donnell.” –  Greg Marston, University of Queensland, Australia, Journal of Social Security Law

“This is an important book both for specialists in labour law and welfare policy, but also for labour historians … The book's strength is not simply its lucid explication of the evolution of law and policy relating to unemployment, but its secure grounding in historical context.” –  Janet McCalman, University of Melbourne, Labour History

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