Australia unveils white paper to deliver 'dynamic, inclusive' labour market

Government's five 'ambitious' objectives cover pensions, job security, productivity growth, skills needs

Australia unveils white paper to deliver 'dynamic, inclusive' labour market

The Australian government unveiled on Monday its Employment White Paper that outlines plans to boost productivity and enhance the pension system to get more Australians into work.

As part of its new Working Future white paper, the government outlined five "ambitious" objectives that will lead to its vision of a dynamic and inclusive labour market. These objectives include:

  • Delivering sustained and inclusive full employment
  • Promoting job security and strong, sustainable wage growth
  • Reigniting productivity growth
  • Filling skills needs and building our future workforce
  • Overcoming barriers to employment and broadening opportunity

The white paper also outlines principles that will guide the reforms to be introduced in the country's employment services system.

"The principles we outline in the Employment White Paper today will guide reforms that better match employers keen for more workers with job seekers keen to make a contribution," said Treasurer James Chalmers in a statement.

According to Chalmers, improving the country's employment services system will help address entrenched community disadvantage and break down barriers to employment for people who are ready, willing, and able to work.

"Near-record low unemployment and record-high labour force participation are some of our best defences against global economic volatility, but we can't see Australia's remarkably strong labour market as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the kind of entrenched disadvantage we see in communities right across the country," Chalmers said.

Changes to pensions in Australia

Australia's unemployment rate is at 3.7%, just slightly higher than the record-low 3.5%, according to the latest data from the Statistics Bureau.

While the government says this near-record-low unemployment rate is a great defence against economic volatility, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) said regional areas of the country has been suffering from workforce shortages.

It called on the government to remove the barriers preventing other talent pools from joining the workforce.

In its white paper, the government said it will permanently enhance the Work Bonus, which allows pensioners to retain more of their pension while employed.

The government's plan, pending legislation, will see work bonus recipients receive a balance of $4,000 immediately, and an additional $7,800 over the year.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the change will ensure pensioners know they are support and rewarded it they choose to work.

"Around 195,000 people commence on the Age Pension each year and will benefit from the $4000 Work Bonus starting balance. If these pensioners choose to take up work or work more their earnings will have less of an impact on their pension," Rishworth said in a statement.

The IPA, however, said the white paper was a "cop out."

"Making permanent the minor changes to the pension work bonus scheme is welcome, and an endorsement of IPA research, however the White Paper fails pensioners, veterans, and students by not committing to remove all disincentives to work once and for all," said IPA research fellow Saxon Davidson in a statement.

Davidson said lifting these tax and red tape barriers will unlock a pool of labour equivalent to 550,000 individuals.

Productivity boost lauded by business

Meanwhile, among the objectives of the plan include reigniting Australia's productivity - which businesses lauded.

According to the government, it will progress a five-pillar productivity agenda to speed up Australia's productivity growth, which is at its slowest in 60 years.

"This agenda focuses on driving higher productivity growth by promoting economic dynamism and resilience, investment in physical and human capital, delivering quality care more efficiently, and realising the opportunities of the net zero transformation," the report said.

The Business Council of Australia welcomed the initiative, after business groups previously called out the government for its lack of focus on productivity in its industrial relations reforms.

"We are especially pleased to see reigniting productivity growth as a stand-alone government objective," said BCA chief executive Bran Black in a statement.

"BCA supports the government's position that people who seek work should be able to find it in a timely manner and be part of an inclusive labour market. We have argued that there needs to be reform of employment services to be more demand-led and locally focused."

However, Black noted that the government's workplace relations reforms will "undermine" the white paper's objectives.

"They will return the workplace relations system to an outdated model, unable to meet the expectations of both employees and businesses in the ways they seek to work today," the chief executive said.

The Federal government's Closing Loopholes Bill has been delayed to 2024 following concerns from crossbenchers on the time needed to understand the reforms.

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