Thursday, June 13, 2024
Industry News

Jobs and Skills Summit gets things moving

By Joanna Cave – Chief Executive Officer, Greenlife Industry Australia

The Albanese Government hosted its first Jobs & Skills Summit in Canberra last week. This much anticipated event, a tripartite discussion between business, trade unions and policy makers, was notable for several reasons. The first was the focus on improving work pathways for women, older people and other disadvantaged sections of the workforce. If you didn’t see it, take a look at the keynote speech on this subject delivered by Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute. The second distinguishing feature of the Summit was the spirt of cooperation, much encouraged by the Government but actually demonstrated by Jennifer Westacott and Sally McManus, the respective leaders of the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

In a move that raised eyebrows among many commentators, Westacott and McManus agreed to explore the concept of multi-employer bargaining, with the aim of making systems less complex for employers and ensuring workers were paid more. If enacted, this could see pay awards replaced with enterprise agreements that could change the way pay is determined for the greenlife industry.

Thirty-six actions were agreed for immediate action, whilst many more were put on the list for further consideration. Of particular interest to the greenlife sector are the following:

  • 465,000 additional fee-free TAFE places (180,000 in the next year alone)
  • Extension of the relaxation of work restrictions for student and training visa holders until 30 June 2023 to help ease skills and labour shortages
  • Establishment of a tripartite agricultural workforce Working Group, tasked with progressing the following:
  • Agriculture-specific skills and training programs, including in the regions, to uplift capability for workers and employers
    • Promoting well-paid, secure, local employment and careers in agriculture for Australians
    • Maximising value and certainty from visa classes, including the successful PALM scheme, to support the farm and processing sectors
    • Further protections for workers to ensure they are treated fairly
    • Encouraging wider participation in the industry among women, First Nations, youth, people with disability and older Australians
    • Improved housing for key workers in regional areas
    • Building capability for data collection on the agricultural workforce
  • Investment of $36.1 million to accelerate visa processing
  • Increased cap on skilled migration to 195,000 in 2022-2023, with a specific allocation of 8,000 places for agriculture flagged
  • Agreement to review and simplify the ‘Better Off Overall Test’
  • Stronger access to flexible working arrangements and unpaid parental leave so families can share work and caring responsibilities
  • $4,000 income bank credit to allow pensioners to work and earn more before their pension is reduced

Many commentators pointed to the fact that far more policy changes were discussed rather than were actually actioned, but there were many reasons to celebrate what felt and sounded like an exploration of ideas, rather than the posturing that often characterises these events. To quote Westacott, “What’s wrong with talking? Talking can deliver solutions and it can achieve consensus. Cynicism, on the other hand, fuels inaction.”

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