When we bring all voices together and allow them to be heard – including the voices of working Australians – we can achieve great outcomes that serve everybody.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus joined us on The Bulletin this week to reflect on what came out of the Jobs and Skills Summit.
Sally remarked that the only notable time in the Liberals’ reign of “8 years, 8 months and 25 days” where there was a unified response – when workers and businesses’ views and needs were considered – was in the first stages of the pandemic.
That response resulted in JobKeeper: A wage subsidy scheme that was the unions’ brainchild. It saved millions of workers from losing their livelihoods, and thousands of businesses from collapsing.
The consensus from the Summit was that we have a wage growth problem. So why aren’t workers getting those pay rises if everyone agrees that they should?
Big business will tell you they cannot afford them, but profits and productivity have seen significant increases over the last couple of years.
And yet according to data released by the ABS a few weeks ago, workers’ share of Australia’s GDP is at the lowest level it has been in recorded history.
That is a fact that should disgust everyone, even across the business-worker divide.
Corporate CEOs are pocketing multi-million dollar profits while refusing to increase workers’ pay because of this fallacy of low productivity.
What could “fix” this? Bargaining. Putting more power in the workers’ hands – making it easier for them to collectively push for rightful pay increases from their employers.
Women are key to our working futures
Women are graduating from universities in throngs – more than men in fact.
Women are also far more likely to be primary carers of children, and to take time out of the workforce to fulfil this duty because childcare costs are so exorbitant.
Therefore, it would have been remiss of the Summit to not address the elephant in the room. Freeing up women to enter or re-enter the workforce would not only improve productivity,
; it would also alleviate much of the pressure felt by businesses as Australia contends with the second-worst labour shortages in the developed world.
It would also, according to the Australian Council of Trade Union’s Delivering Respect for Women at Work report, generate an additional $111 billion annually of national income.
Upskilling young workers
Speaking of labour shortages, there is no better way to fix Australia’s shortage of skilled workers than to upskill our young workers!
Despite an abundance of research that suggests vocational training can lead to better employment outcomes than university, funding has diminished significantly, and the sector has been left decimated over the course of consecutive Coalition governments.
TAFE funding hit its peak of $7.65 billion in 2012, only to decrease by 20 per cent (or $1.6 billion) by 2020.
Excitingly, there appeared to be unanimous agreement from representatives at the Summit, from across all spheres, that public TAFE should be rebuilt, adequately funded, and treated as the invaluable institution that it is.
As a result, 180,000 new free TAFE places will be created across Australia in a deal between Federal and State/Territory Governments. Easily one of the coolest developments to emerge from the Summit.
First Nations representatives, people with disability, young workers, the culturally and linguistically diverse: all these voices were included at the Summit. Moving forward, let’s hope the government and business leaders genuinely listen to these people. Let’s hope the event wasn’t an opportunity for glib one-liners about “job security” and “addressing skills shortages” like the ones we were often treated to under the Morrison Government.
Union members are creating real change so that the generation of tomorrow isn’t more disadvantaged than the generations that preceded them.
Join us as we delve behind the headlines and see what really matters for young workers.