The Workforce Agenda – It’s In Everyone’s Interest

Recent policy debate between Coalition and Labor politicians and the ACTU, the broader union movement and the Business Council of Australia, created headlines sponsoring community debate.  The focus was on which core and fundamental issues need to be considered by government in its cooperation with employers, unions and State governments.

Issues which were foremost in the lead-up to the May Federal election included:

  • What constitutes a fair living wage?
  • What reforms are required in relation to superannuation for both the employed and the retired?
  • What should be the priorities in the training/higher education sectors to prepare the current and future workforce with sustainable employment?
  • What perceived workforce inequities require review and consideration, specifically:
    • Childcare workers
    • Aged care workers
    • Disability care workers
    • Gender equity

Some critical issues will have a universal impact and require careful independent consideration. These include the setting of the parameters in determining the next minimum wage including the proposed income tax changes and the equitable management of superannuation.

Others listed above, such as current wage levels, have overtones of pay relativity, work value and labour force bias.

Concern was also expressed regarding the education requirements for entry into particular fields of work.  Further, discussion included the differentiation that might appropriately arise where occupational input qualifications are highly varied, as are the knowledge and learning accomplishments of students entering tertiary education following completion of high school.

Independently of the issue of a living wage, the salaries and working conditions of early childcare workers, disability and aged care workers, have a flow on effect arising from long established relativities with those involved in social work and the education sector through primary school, secondary school, and tertiary education.

At this level workforce productivity, economic and performance elements are likely to continue to be the dominant sources of influence.

Recent questioning of representatives of the ACTU by the Fair Work Commission

Under the influence of a Coalition government, such concerns are unlikely to lead to a minimum wage increase outside the boundary of its two most recent decisions, given current inflation at below 2% and present levels of unemployment.

The foreshadowed increment of superannuation contributions over the coming years to 12% of annual wages from the current 9.5% will also not be without community and employer cost, presently estimated in the order of $20 billion.  A key question which arises in meeting these mandatory costs is whether they will be absorbed in annual salary increases or be in addition to such increases.

These general observations do not address some of the underlying concerns expressed by the ACTU and others about gender bias in wages which do not appear, at this stage, to be underpinned by work value criteria. Further discussions are needed to review the contribution of the higher education sector preparing school leavers for the ever changing world of work.