Unions and employers agree: more migrants needed to fill skills shortage

Despite consensus, businesses still reject other 'ambitious union requests'

Unions and employers agree: more migrants needed to fill skills shortage

As businesses continue to struggle through a labour force crisis, unions and employers recently agreed that the country should boost its migration intake by 40,000 yearly while also demanding a raise in apprentice subsidies.

HRD recently reported on the unions’ call for an agreement between employers and labour “to have compulsory training for Australians for every migrant hire,” the two groups now have seemingly reached a consensus over the demand for the intake. However, several matters are still up for debate.

Unions and businesses’ views

According to The Guardian, the agreement between unions and employers suggested that the government could ensure support for policy reforms during the jobs and skills summit in September.

For Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) chief executive, Andrew McKellar, increasing the permanent skilled migration intake to 200,000 for at least the next two years could help resolve the nation’s skill shortages, The Guardian said.

The news outlet reported that McKellar applauded “the government’s recognition of the significant economic value derived from an ambitious and sustainable immigration plan.”

Meanwhile, regarding the rise in apprentice subsidies, the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) called for a “minimum of 70% public funding for Tafe and a 50% commonwealth-funded wage subsidy for employed apprentices, one-quarter of which would be pocketed by the apprentice as a retention bonus,” the report said.

On the other hand, McKellar called for a minimum wage subsidy of 30% in the first 12 months of apprenticeships and the first six months of one-year traineeships.

Although consensus has been reached, The Guardian said the ACCI would conduct a speech to reject several union demands.

One of ACTU’s calls is regulating the price of electricity and a windfall profits tax which McKellar plans to reject as “throwbacks to a forgotten and bygone era,” at the National Press Club, the news outlet said.

Unions also wanted the protection of foreign workers, such as eradicating visa conditions that limit them to only a single employer and granting them the right to work anywhere in an industry with “independently verified skill shortages,” according to the news outlet.

The Guardian further reported that if these requests are granted, the union will support a rise in migration to 200,000, up from 160,000.

“We support a visa system which prioritises permanent migration and support expanding the permanent migration intake, but that decision must be in concert with systemic changes to undo the decade of low wage growth, exploitation and neglect under the former government,” Michele O’Neil said according to the news outlet.

However, during a press club speech, McKellar noted that “trade-offs” are unnecessary to boost bargaining for workplace pay deals, investment in skills, or a demanding skilled migration system as they are “unambiguously in the national interest,” The Guardian reported.

Following the call for reforms, McKellar warned stakeholders to be “fair” and not seek “an opportunity to settle old scores, or to push an outdated agenda,” but only to attempt “sensible and modest reform,” the report said.

Moreover, McKellar cautioned the government not to implement a “deal struck between big business and big unions,” to enhance bargaining, which according to The Guardian, is a “reference to a plan in 2020 agreed between unions and the business council to fast-track approval for union-negotiated pay deals which was rejected by other employers.”

For the ACCI chief executive, the government should only implement “modest” changes regarding bargaining rules to prevent them from being “too inflexible and turning businesses and unions away from agreement-making altogether,” The Guardian said.

“We do not propose to put forward any changes that would see employees worse off,” McKellar said, according to the same report.

The report also noted that the ACCI chief executive felt “puzzled” regarding the push to avoid early termination of pay deals, an area that Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke will push even without consensus.

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