Jobs and Skills Summit September 2022
The Jobs and Skills Summit took place in early September bringing together Australian Unions, employers, civil society, and governments, to address the country’s shared economic challenges with an aim of developing a way forward.
In hosting this summit, the Albanese Labour Government’s stated the goal is to build a bigger, better-trained and more productive workforce.
The Summit covered several topics including:
- Addressing skills shortages and getting our skills mix right over the long‑term
- Improving migration settings to support higher productivity and wages
- Maximising jobs and opportunities from renewable energy, tackling climate change, the digital economy, the care economy, and a Future Made in Australia
- Ensuring women have equal opportunities and equal pay
- Expanding employment opportunities for all Australians including the most disadvantaged.
After two days of discussions, the Albanese Government agreed to thirty-six immediate actions, which can be found here: Jobs and Skills Summit September 2022 – Outcomes (treasury.gov.au).
The immediate actions and speculated changes to Australia’s employment landscape have been subject to much contention since the Summit, with some changes identified as positive by all, and others dividing the industry. This article expands on some key focuses of the Summit in relation to Migration, Enterprise Bargaining and Women in the Workforce.
Strengthening the Migration System
A focus of the Summit surrounded Australian immigration and how skilled migration could contribute to resolving the vast skill shortages faced in Australia.
With the Government’s aim to ‘strengthen the pipeline of skilled labour’ it announced that the annual permanent migration intake will be raised from 160,000 to 195,000 for this fiscal year. In addressing the summit, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil stated that this increase would see thousands of nurses and engineers settling in Australia.
Regional migration places are also to increase from 9,000 to 34,0000 and State and Territory sponsored visas to increase from 11,000 to 31,000.
In providing these increases, the Government is looking to move skilled migrants away from limited or in some cases perpetual temporary residence and instead provide clearer pathways that would allow these skilled individuals to obtain permanent residence and eventually, Australian Citizenship.
Additional immediate changes include extending the Covid concessions for student visa holders until 2023, increasing the duration of post study work rights for international students and active measures to provide faster visa processing.
Mapien Principal Consultant, Samantha Norman noted,
There are systemic issues with the current sponsored visa frameworks and in particular, limited options for permanent residence which makes it very difficult for Australian employers to attract the skills they need. One example is talented executives who are ultimately the future job creators – occupations in these areas are often limited in most cases to a temporary stay only.
Many business owners trying to source these skills have noted the current two year stay period is simply not enough for a business to task someone with design and successful implementation of a strategic growth plan.”
The Summit’s focus on migration has been welcomed by business, given the immense pressure around skills shortages which has only grown since the Global Pandemic. Minister O’Neill has announced a six-month review into the skilled migration programs will now occur with a report and recommendations due to be released in February next year.
Mapien’s Migration experts have seen first-hand the impacts that Australia’s ongoing and increased skills shortages have been having on business, and hope to see a return to a well-balanced, simplified program that genuinely helps to alleviate skills shortages while also offering permanent residence pathways to some of the best and brightest.
Industrial Relations - Enterprise Bargaining
An item of contention throughout the summit and one that has industry divided, is the Albanese Government’s support for multi-employer bargaining.
The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) has been criticised for its focus on agreement-making, rather than bargaining; with experts such as Shae McCrystal, Professor of Labour Law, at the University of Sydney claiming that,
“the levers within the system of agreement-making are entirely held by employers who initiate, control and finalise the agreement-making processes.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have been pushing for multi-employer bargaining for some time. Ahead of the Summit, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia made a joint announcement with the ACTU in support of a simpler system including options around collective bargaining, namely, multi-employer agreements. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recognised these efforts in stating that Labour was uniquely placed to back the work already underway.
With consideration to the advance speculation towards initiatives resulting from the Summit, and ultimately the actions determined, Mark Hudston, Associate Director at Mapien, stated:
During the Summit, the Unions proposed the idea of negotiating pay and conditions across multiple employers in the same industry. This was put forward on the grounds that doing so would lead to better outcomes for workers such as those employed by small businesses.
This proposal contributed to the Government’s commitment to “modernising Australia’s workplace relations laws, including to make bargaining accessible for all workers and businesses’ and removing “unnecessary limitations on access to single and multi-employer agreements.”
Whilst the Government has shown support for this initiative, there is no indication as to how multi-employer bargaining would operate in practice, with consultation yet to occur. Peak employer groups such as the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have expressed concern about a return to multi-employer bargaining. Mapien considers a return to multi-employer bargaining would be a retrograde step and will not create sustained productivity growth which should be the basis for real wage increases.
A welcome reform
Though Businesses have shown little support for proposed multi-employer bargaining, a welcome change has been the proposed reform of the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT).
Although the variations to the BOOT are yet to be determined, it is clear the primary goal is simplification rather than amending the purpose of the test. Speaking to this, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke made the following comment:
“It’s about how do you keep the concept that people can’t go backwards but take away a whole lot of the complexity in how that is interpreted”.
Women in the workforce
Women and their participation in the workforce has been the centre of attention in recent years. The Job and Skills Summit focused on this topic, given one of the key points of the Albanese Government’s election campaign was its commitment to reducing the gender pay gap.
Day one of the Summit saw unions and business groups call for an increase to the Commonwealth-paid parental leave being 18 to 26 weeks. There were also demands to bring forward the Government’s proposed changes to childcare subsidies where families with a combined income of up to $80,000 receive a 90 per cent childcare subsidy for their first child.
However due to budget constraints, the Labour Government has signalled that these proposals will not be adopted. This has led to some criticism given one of Labour’s focuses of the Summit was to work towards women having equal opportunity and equal pay.
The gender pay gap was also a major topic of discussion. In 2022, the gender pay gap is 14.1 per cent meaning on average women working full-time earn $1,609.00 while men working full-time earn $1,872.90 per week.
With the aim of continuous improvement, one the Albanese Government’s immediate actions following the summit is the requirement that businesses with 100 employees or more will need to publicly report their gender pay gap to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. This is likely to bring about greater accountability in terms of wage discrepancy across industries.
Such discrepancies are thought to exist as more women work reduced hours to care for children and 88 per cent of women take parental leave to be the primary care giver. As such, not only did the Summit highlight the economic changes that need to occur to see progress in this area, but it highlighted the cultural shift required so that women are no longer seen as the primary caregiver, but both parents are seen to have equal responsibility.
Improving pay equity and other structural factors that impact on participation by women, such as paid parental leave and the cost of childcare, is fundamental to this. It’s disappointing that this has not been prioritised as it will pay dividends for businesses and the community alike.”
– Nadia Taylor, Mapien CEO
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There is a large agenda for change following the Summit, and discussions are likely to continue with key employer groups and unions.
Mapien looks forward to continuing to report on the outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit and to navigating these changes with you as they occur.
Should you have any questions or need advice, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our Mapien Workplace Strategists will be in touch within 24 hours.