Has the Job Summit of 2022 solved Australia’s labour crisis?
The 2022 Jobs Summit held in Australia this month came up with 36 initiatives they believe will position Australia better for the future. What was it all about and how do they affect you? And are they the solutions we’re looking for?
Australia currently has the second-worst skills shortage of the richer OECD nations behind Canada.
Job vacancies in Australia increased to 480,100 in the second quarter of 2022 from 423,500 in the first quarter of 2022.
And every industry is feeling it.
The pressure the country is under resulted in the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese calling political leaders, industry groups, unions, business heads, academics, key community groups, educators and more to gather in Canberra last week at a specially convened Jobs Summit.
What was the Jobs Summit all about?
The goal of the summit was not so much to solve the immediate problems employers are having finding staff, which is what people were hoping for – yes, our shared pain will continue for a while longer.
The purpose of it was to invite 142 (originally capped at 100) key stakeholders from around the nation to be in the same room at the same time to come to some agreement on how to implement unprecedented widespread reform to ensure the country has the skills and productivity it needs to be economically successful.
The last time this happened was in 1983, almost 40 years ago, so it was about time for a regroup!
Who got to be there?
It was planned for just 100 hand-picked invitees from across the country but blew out to 142 to ensure that all Australians – employers, employees, and those who want to work but can’t catch a break – were represented.
From State Premiers, business and industry heads and Union bosses to the head of the National Council of Single Mothers & their Children, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Y Australia and National Seniors, any organisation that had a stake in the future of employment outcomes was invited. You can see the full list of attendees here.
What did it involve?
Put simply, it involved facilitating a delicate balance of discussion and debate with over 140 people, all hugely passionate and committed to their values and agendas, without any of them losing their cool!
Imagine the potential for disruption, disharmony and disagreement – industry groups wanting wage freezes sitting next to unions advocating for wage increases, community representatives championing the rights of the old, disabled and female sitting next to business heads chanting ‘productivity, productivity’, and academics wanting to do studies sitting next to politicians wanting to… well, whatever they think the electorate wants to hear.
But there was none of that.
For the first time many of us can remember, all these people proved that when you come together with a shared purpose and a shared commitment to making your piece of the world a better, fairer place with opportunity for all, good things can happen.
What were the outcomes? And what difference will they make?
There were 36 key initiatives announced after the summit wrapped up, ranging from making it easier for Pensioners to work before losing their pension to creating digital scholarships in the Public Service Sector.
I won’t drag you through all of them – after all, I don’t want to send you to sleep!
But some of the key high level initiatives are worth knowing about.
1. An additional $1 billion in joint Federal-State funding for fee-free TAFE in 2023 and accelerated delivery of 465,000 fee-free TAFE places
There’s no doubt that making education and training free of charge makes a difference. Economies cannot advance if the population is unskilled. Simple as that.
On top of the 20,000 additional Commonwealth‑supported university places for under‑represented groups in areas of skills shortages, the goal of this initiative is to ensure that industry has the skills and training needed to boost productivity and increase workforce participation. And that’s a good thing.
But it doesn’t address the current skills shortage. We shall have to celebrate the results at some future date.
2. A one-off income credit so that Age Pensioners who want to work can earn an additional $4,000 over this financial year without losing any of their pension
Here’s some attempt at solving the current labour shortage crisis. The initiative allows pensioners to increase the amount they can earn in this current financial year from $7,800 to $11,800 once it passes through legislation.
Wow! An extra $4,000 a year! Don’t break open the bubbles on this one. I’m at a loss to understand how someone being able to work an extra few hours every week for the next 9 months is a solution to the current crisis.
Why would employers employ someone who they know won’t be able to discharge their duties past 30 June 2023?
And what about the poor pensioners? How unfair is it to them to give them the taste of work, only to take it away.
If they’d lifted the cap indefinitely, then perhaps it may have meant something. After all, many of them are highly productive talented people that could make a real difference.
3. More flexibly utilising $575 million in the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in social and affordable housing, and attract financing from superannuation funds and other sources of private capital
It is well known that housing affordability is a major issue for people wanting to pursue job opportunities. We’ve heard more and more stories about nurses, firefighters, police officers and more who are having to leave their city jobs and move to locations where housing is more affordable.
In regional Australia it’s not so much about affordability as availability.
So, we know this is a major barrier to workforce participation.
But given how slowly wheels turn in Canberra, it’s unlikely this initiative will make a difference any time soon.
4. Modernising Australia’s workplace relations laws, including to make bargaining accessible for all workers and businesses
This is a good idea and most welcome because we all know the current system is broken but we also know how complex such reform is and how long it is likely to take. So let’s not hold our breath on this one as a way of solving our current crisis.
And it’s not clear how all this will increase the number of skilled workers.
However, reform is well overdue and it will be good to see more workplace flexibility and simplified processes.
5. Amending the Fair Work Act to strengthen access to flexible working arrangements, make unpaid parental leave more flexible and strengthen protection for workers against discrimination and harassment
I’m not sure what this actually means. It seems to me that the Fair Work Act already provides pretty good protections for people wanting flexibility and protection from discrimination and harassment.
But again, whatever it involves, it’s not going to make any difference to the crisis we are in right now.
6. Improving access to jobs and training pathways for women, First Nations people, regional Australians and culturally and linguistically diverse people, including equity targets for training places, 1,000 digital apprenticeships in the Australian Public Service, and other measures to reduce barriers to employment
Again, this sounds like a great idea but not one that will solve our current problems. Given the housing affordability issue, I’m not sure how all these (presumably unemployed) people will be able to afford to participate if it requires them to leave home.
And given the low unemployment rate, I’m not sure where the people will come from to fill the places.
Again, this is a long term initiative and one yet to be proven as a solution.
7. An increase in the permanent Migration Program ceiling to 195,000 in 2022-23 to help ease widespread, critical workforce shortages
Now, this will make a difference:
- an extra 4700 places for the healthcare sector
- 6100 additional places for workers with “skills needed to deliver vital infrastructure”
- 6800 places for the tech sector
- regional visas will increase by 9000 to 34,000
- another 5000 skilled visas enabling various businesses to sponsor permanent employees
- state and territory sponsored visa numbers will increase from 11,000 to 31,000.
Disappointingly, there has been no mention of addressing the costs of migration and employer sponsored visas. For many small businesses, this is a significant barrier.
8. Extending visas and relaxing work restrictions on international students to strengthen the pipeline of skilled labour, and providing additional funding to resolve the visa backlog
This is a most welcome outcome. Students can stay and work for an extra two years in Australia and be encouraged to move into the permanent migration pathway if they are in areas of skill shortages. What I can’t seem to find out is whether their work restrictions will also be eased so they can work more hours each week than they currently can.
There’s barely an industry out there that can’t make use of those workers who are already in the country if the restrictions were eased – hospitality, technology, health care, aged care, customer service – the list is endless.
Now, if they can get themselves sorted out down there in Canberra to process the 900,000 visa application backlog!
But the Government has promised an additional $36 million to lift the surge staff capacity to 500 over the next nine months, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
What was missing from the love-in?
Two words – childcare subsidies.
It’s interesting that there are other initiatives from the Summit not covered here that talk about removing ‘barriers’ for women, improving flexibility for parental leave under the Fair Work Act, increasing the number of young women in the STEM industries, and narrowing the gender pay gap.
- requiring employers with 500 or more employees to commit to measurable targets to improve gender equality in their workplaces
- requiring businesses with 100 employees or more to publicly report their gender pay gap to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency
- requiring the Australian Public Service to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and to set targets to improve gender equity in the public service
Minister for Women and Finance Katy Gallagher told the summit:
“If women’s workforce participation matched men, we would increase GDP by 8.7 per cent or $353 billion by 2050”
Now, wouldn’t you think that would be a rather compelling reason to discuss the reasons why women aren’t participating to the level they’d like to? After all, weren’t the reasons for calling the summit about skills, productivity, increasing the participation of women in the workforce – all designed to promote economic success?
But nothing about childcare.
It’s all well and good to have all these initiatives in place but if women can’t take advantage of them because of having to care for children, then it’s all just talk and drum beating.
Women’s workforce participation is reduced because more women tend to work part time — often to care for children — and in the majority (88 per cent) of relationships in Australia, it’s women who take parental leave to be the primary carer.
If the Government was really serious about increasing women’s participation in the workforce, they’d remove the biggest barrier of all – the availability and cost of good childcare.
Well, I guess we now wait – for legislation to pass, for industrial reform to commence, for visa applications to be approved, for vocational training places to kick in.
For those of you looking for staff now, most of these outcomes won’t make much difference to you but they’re likely to in a year or so.
In the meantime, let’s work with the wins we have – pensioners, and skilled migrants and international students who are already here.
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