A union power grab, not a platform for reform
They have already claimed the scalp of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, despite its success in cracking down on illegal and thuggish behaviour by construction unions.
Unions now want to push sector-wide pay claims, which are a proxy for their right to undertake wide-scale strike action. And there could be nothing more anti-worker than their latest thought bubble – charging fees on non-union members who benefit from enterprise agreements.
Unions are focused on shoring up their finances, arresting declining membership and bolstering the political prospects of their mates.
Instead of championing higher migration to support overworked staff in sectors like the care economy where shortages are acute, the unions want to clip the ticket by charging employers that benefit from migrant labour to fund skills training.
And worse, the Australian Workers’ Union is calling for all skilled migrants to be automatically enrolled with a union.
Recent experience in NSW proves their agitation is not about higher salaries. The NSW government provides one of the most generous public sector wages policies in the country, yet unions continue to engage in a relentless industrial campaign.
They are solely focused on shoring up their finances, arresting declining membership and bolstering the political prospects of their mates.
Small business voices need to be heard
A national economic summit truly focused on building our short- and long-term prosperity would hear from a more diverse set of voices, particularly the small businesses across every sector of the economy clamouring to find employees.
They are facing severe labour shortages due to the hangover of closed international borders during the pandemic. Compared with pre-pandemic expectations in late 2019, the 2022-23 NSW budget now forecasts NSW net overseas migration to be lower by 338,000 across the period from 2019-20 to 2025-26.
NSW has already called for the Commonwealth to expedite the approval of the estimated 65,000 skilled migrant workers wanting to fill gaps across the economy.
We want priority given to the return of international students, as well as short-term holidaymakers who would support the revival of a tourism industry hit hard by border closures.
Australia should promote itself as a destination of choice for skilled and migrant workers and offer expanded pathways to permanent residency and citizenship for new migrants.
These are commonsense measures that offer immediate relief to businesses suffering labour shortages, and reflect the success our nation has always had when we welcome the best and brightest talents to our shores.
Employment for older workers
We should also look to tap latent potential in the domestic economy from people who want to work more but face financial disincentives from doing so.
Older workers on the verge of retirement should be encouraged to stay as active participants in the economy – even if it means changing the rules around pensions or superannuation to encourage them to do so.
Business leaders tell me that being able to employ these experienced workers even a day or two a week can make a big difference to industries hit by skills shortages.
And the Commonwealth should take the lead from NSW on our pioneering work to lift the economic choices available to half our population by making it easier for women to enter, re-enter and stay in the workforce.
Its approach to childcare is promising – as we know, it is the largest single barrier to women entering the workforce.
But there are a host of available policy levers that are being neglected, including improvements to paid parental leave arrangements.
And there is a simple change to the Fair Work Act that would be more beneficial to women than the heavy-handed claims of unions – which is to place a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate a request for flexible working arrangements for all employees.
Australia is at its best when we reward the enterprise and ingenuity of our citizens. Let’s give life to their aspirations and talents, and ignore the self-interested pleadings of union leaders.