Next Week on the 1 and 2 of September, the Albanese Commonwealth Government is getting together employers, unions, state governments, civil society and academics to a National Jobs and Skills Summit.
The focus of the summit is on jobs and skills that fit into a productive future economy and an industrial relations system that is fair and responsive for all workers.
Wages are not keeping pace with cost of living, leading to a decline in living standards for many workers.
This is not just because of the pandemic: it has been happening for more than a decade. Work and workplaces have changed, and laws have not kept up. Labour productivity has plateaued for the past decade. Employers have been able to restructure, contract out work to labour hire or privatise services to companies for less pay.
The previous government did nothing about this problem; in fact it made low wages a feature of its economic plan with a faltering bargaining system, the ability to terminate agreements, lack of support for minimum wage rises, and wage caps across the public sector. Respect at Work and a system where you get the same pay for the same work are essential elements of a fair workplace system.
The new government has been elected to do something about wages falling behind. The summit is a good start by bringing people together.
The role of the independent umpire is critical. The current system as demonstrated by the Sydney Trains dispute lasting 16 months is inefficient for the workers involved and all workers and industries reliant on the service. The independent umpire should have stronger powers to solve disputes and find solutions. The system will improve if the Fair Work Commission is strengthened, but also allowed to assist workplaces resolve matters such as harassment, or pay equity.
Research shows that the issue of workers having the ability to negotiate across different worksites, particularly if they have the same job, is accepted as sensible and common sense approach, and ensures better bargaining position for workers and pay equity across regions and genders. We have had this approach at the PSA for more than 50 years, but it is illegal under our federal industrial laws.
It is common sense that the bargaining system needs to keep up with the changes in the workplace, particularly in areas such as essential services, caring services and outsourced by government that are still reliant on government funding.
Workers who have the same jobs across a sector should be able to come together to bargain for similar conditions as we do already in our state.
The Summit will be looking at ways to improve productivity through improved skills of our workforce. Productivity-led wages growth is not inflationary. New industries can be supported including the appropriate transition for our members in the energy industry so their skills are not lost and just increased to take advantage of the changing energy environment, whilst maintaining their own living standards. Advanced manufacturing is another area of large potential.
The caring sector, including Child Protection, has seen the largest growth in the last decade with its highly feminised workforce often having to balance the expense of accessing training with work overload and poorer wage outcomes. The conference will discuss mechanisms to make getting the skills and keeping the workers employed improved.
There have been countless examples of increased cost, poor efficiency and even fraud by the private education providers in the past 10 years. The Jobs and Skills Summit will discuss how we can stop relying on phony skills shortage migration schemes and allow Australian workers and students to get access to more training. We also propose making our reliable TAFE and universities the central part of this transformation.
All business is being hurt by workers’ wages going backwards and having less spending power, as well as the skills shortage. Worker wages going up helps small business and the economy.
As one of the largest employee-representative bodies in the country, our national union, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), will be attending to advocate on behalf of Public Sector workers throughout the country.