New South Wales Public Employment Services 1887-1942

by Melissa Kerr

Institution: University of Sydney
Year: 2012
Keywords: Labour Economics; Labour History; Unemployed
Record ID: 1065366
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2123/8645


Australian historical scholarship has traditionally neglected public employment services as an area of research. However, in recent years as the State has repositioned itself in the labour market the role of public employment services has become a popular area of debate. While contemporary scholars have contributed to these debates, their historical counterparts have been slower to follow suit. In overcoming this neglect, this thesis provides an historical examination of one of the earliest forms of state intervention into the Australian labour market: public employment services. This study examined the establishment and operations of public employment services in NSW from 1887 until 1942, when they were transferred across to the Federal Department of Labour and National Service, to comply with Commonwealth Wartime legislation. Within the Australian contemporary scholarship, public employment services have been conceptualised according to three dominant economic traditions: neo-classical economics, Keynesian economics and the writings of W.H. Beveridge. However, these traditions are predicated on inherent assumptions and predetermined outcomes, all of which fail to identify the origins and development of public employment services in Australia. Neo-classical economists have been the most critical arguing that the public provision of employments services is both inefficient and ineffective. Within the historical literature, Institutional economists in the United States have been influential in identifying the socio-economic factors that led to the development of the public employment services: asymmetrical labour market information and fraudulent acts perpetrated by private employment registries, all of which distorted the functioning of the labour market. By adopting the institutional economic approach, this thesis found that it was these socio-economic concerns that led to the introduction of the public employment service in NSW. This thesis disputes the claims of the neo-classical economists that the public employment services were both inefficient and ineffective, instead it argues that the public employment service played a pivotal role in the development of the NSW economy performing the role of labour market intermediary: channelling information and bringing together those wishing to buy and sell labour; while safeguarding those vulnerable in the labour market: the unemployed.