What was missing from the jobs summit?

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Former COSBOA leader Peter Strong. Source: provided.

The jobs summit is now over and dusted off, and attention is firmly focused on the Albanian government’s response to the labor shortage and rising cost of living pressures. The federal budget, to be tabled in October, will be the government’s first real test as businesses and the wider community seek real leadership and practical solutions on key issues.

And that is indeed a tall order. The government will need to act responsibly to deal with the record debt accumulated by the previous government as it worked to protect Australia’s economy and jobs during the pandemic, while simultaneously advancing actions that address the future availability of labor and rising cost of living.

Various decisions were made at the summit, suggesting that it was not just a feast of talks. During the summit, quality time was spent on migration, pay equity and participation, cost of living and support for particular sectors such as elderly care and child care.

The focus was on workplace relations, but much of that discussion was hijacked by the announcement of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between COSBOA and CUTA. The initial lack of information about what was actually agreed in the MOU led to great confusion and opened COSBOA up to criticism that it was being drawn into a scenario that would end up unionizing small businesses.

The ongoing, often angry, discussion during and after the summit on this issue is perhaps best described as a train wreck, as it has only served to further entrench deep and historic divisions over how relations industries operate in this country. It also gave former club IR a chance to vent their hypocritical spleen – something they love to do.

Tread carefully on union power

The government must be wary of excessive IR. He was elected to govern for all Australians, not the trade union movement – ​​and currently only 10% of workers are union members, while more than 50% of the workforce derives its income from small businesses.

Yet the government’s outward approach seemed aimed at cementing union power by aggressively seeking to change workplace relations processes to allow for more industrial strikes.

What happened to the productivity discussion during the summit? How does increasing strike capacity, which may substantially increase the number of lost productive days, increase productivity?

As the summit progressed, Labor Relations Minister Tony Burke seemed increasingly in tune with the ACTU. Mr. Burke should set policies for business and workers, not just unions.

It certainly became apparent at the summit that the Albanian government was seeking to position small businesses as very important — with consultation and words — while also strongly positioning trade unions with action. In reality, the summit was about big business, big unions and big government.

There is perhaps no surprise in this situation, it is a Labor government. A coalition government would traditionally do whatever it could to disenfranchise unions while empowering a few big corporations. Although in truth, the Coalition has supported small business through COVID-19 while opposing laissez-faire economists within their own ranks who believe in the survival of the fittest principle. The Albanian government simply needs to repel the hard left within its own ranks and govern for all by advancing IR policies that are in the interest of the majority, not the minority.

No amount of consultation with small business advocates will hide open post-summit legislation that gives unions disproportionate power over labor relations. We need to address the central failure – the bargaining mechanism – rather than exposing businesses, especially small businesses, to the coercive power of unions that puts unnecessary additional pressure on the national economy.

The Vocational Education and Training (VET) proposals, in many ways very good, had a sting in the tail. The announcement of substantial financial support for TAFE, which is heavily unionised, prioritizes public VET providers over private providers. This is despite the fact that 87% of VET students acquire their skills from private training providers. We don’t want to see private training providers, the majority of whom are very good at what they do, being held back – this would stifle innovation and efficiency in the VET sector.

What was missing?

The summit of course couldn’t focus on everything because there was never enough time. So what has been missing when it comes to increasing productivity and increasing wages?

Competition policy deserves some attention. Vigorous competition is important for innovation, for controlling consumer prices, for choice, for safety and for our ability to compete globally. When there is a Labor government, traditionally the retail trade union (the SDA) drafts competition policy for the minister at the time. Indeed, most SDA members are found in large corporations such as Coles and Woolworths. Big business wants a competition policy that favors them and keeps competitors out of the market and prevents small businesses from starting up and growing, just like the SDA.

Given that the summit showed that Prime Minister Albanese and Tony Burke are determined to strengthen the unions, we can assume that the SDA will get what they want. If the assumption is correct, it will be sad for consumers, small businesses, innovation and the community.

There is also a need to focus on manufacturing development and adding value to our resources. There are so many possibilities for the development of new industries that would be beneficial for the economy, for our sovereignty and even for the unions. The government is holding many more meetings and developing white papers to address these issues.

The other important area that needs to be discussed is the tax system and tax rates. I will cover the budget, where it should be covered, in a separate article.

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