PM flags skills and industrial relations reform to rebuild post-pandemic economy

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday May 26, 2020

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Scott Morrison has flagged the federal government’s intentions to reform the skills sector and industrial relations system to help rebuild the economy under a “JobMaker” plan.

In an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Morrison argued the plan would position the nation for economic success over the next three to five years.

The plan would be guided by several principles:

  • Australia would continue to be part of global supply chains that help create jobs, support incomes and build businesses, but would not “retreat into the downward spiral of protectionism”,
  • “Caring for country”, which Morrison explained was the responsible management and stewardship of “what has been left to us”. This would involve leveraging and building on Australia’s strengths across a number of sectors,
  • Ensure there is the opportunity for “those who have a go, to get a go”, with access to essential services, incentive for effort, equal opportunities for those in rural and regional communities, and more,
  • A united and focussed effort to support small, medium, and large businesses.

Government undertakes Skills Organisation Pilots

On the skills industry, Morrison said Australians must be better trained for the jobs businesses want to create. To address this, the federal government would look at three key issues: a system that is “clunky and unresponsive to skills demands”; the lack of clear information about skills needs; and an inconsistent, incoherent funding system that lacks accountability.

The government has begun a series of Skills Organisation Pilots to “give industry the opportunity to shape the training system” so it can be responsive to skills needs and responsible for qualification development. Three pilots have been established so far, in human services, digital technologies, and mining, Morrison said.

“The human services pilot was actually used to lead development of a national skill set to help boost the aged care and disability support workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery phase and this work was delivered much faster than under the old arrangements that were progressed under the previous VET schemes,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Skills Commission, led by Adam Boyton, would publish detailed labour market analysis, including an annual report on the skill needs of Australia. Morrison argued the analysis would help students with career and training choices by giving them comprehensive data on skills gaps and jobs.

“This will be supplemented by the publication of closer to real time data on the labour market drawing on emerging data sets, such as single-touch payroll, to flag emerging skills shortages and other labour market trends and pressures,” he said.

The information would be made publicly available, and would inform government and private investment in the system, including VET subsidies and a new national skills funding agreement.

Morrison said COAG’s National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development was “fundamentally flawed”, and has been ineffective in maintaining state investment in such schemes. He cited the national hospital agreement as a good model.

“By law, the commonwealth must hand over to the states and territories $1.5 billion every year in untied funding every year, with no end date and no questions asked. The commonwealth has no line of sight on how states use this funding,” he said.

Morrison flagged a number of changes to the agreement, including:

  • Better linking funding to actual forward looking skills needs, based on what businesses need,
  • Simplifying the system, reducing distortions, and achieving greater consistency between jurisdictions, and between VET and universities,
  • Increasing funding and transparency and performance monitoring,
  • Better coordination of the subsidies, loans and other sources of funding.

Shadow education and training minister Tanya Plibersek said that while she had become “quite excited” when she heard the PM was going to discuss TAFE and training in his address, she was disappointed with the lack of solutions presented.

“We heard no plan today. No extra dollars, no timeframe, no detail,” she told reporters at a doorstop.

“This government has cut $3 billion from TAFE and training. They’ve also underspent by another billion dollars, despite the fact that around Australia we are facing skills shortages. Since coming to office, there are 140,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals first came to government.

“Now as the number of unemployed Australians increases we need to make sure those people have the skills to do the jobs that will make Australian businesses successful.”

Coalition shelves union-busting bill

The PM argued Australia’s industrial relations system has lost sight of its purpose, and “settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone”.

“We now have a shared opportunity to fix systemic problems and to realise gains as a matter of urgency to get more people back into work,” he said.

He revealed the government would abandon its controversial Ensuring Integrity Bill. The government reintroduced the union-busting bill after it was defeated in the Senate last year.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has welcomed the withdrawal of the legislation, stating it was “a law which unions and many legal experts say was a direct attack on the democratic rights of workers”.

Industrial relations minister Christian Porter would lead a “dedicated process bringing employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government to the table” to create a job-making agenda for Australia’s industrial relations system. The process would run until September.

Porter would chair five working groups made up of employer and union representatives, and individuals from small businesses, rural and regional backgrounds, multicultural communities, and women and families.

The groups would produce a JobMaker package in the areas of award simplification; enterprise agreement making; casuals and fixed-term employees; compliance and enforcement; and Greenfields agreements for new enterprises.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the union would ensure the voice of working people continues to be at the table as Australia rebuilds its economy.

“The ACTU will measure any changes to industrial relations law on the benchmarks of; will it give working people better job security, and will it lead to working people receiving their fair share of the country’s wealth?” she said.

“The work of job creating will involve much more than industrial law changes and we will continue to put forward ideas on how Australia can create good, secure jobs for workers.”

Morrison will address other aspects of the JobMaker plan in the coming weeks and months.

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