The Jobs and Skills Summit was held in early September at Parliament House, Canberra, and featured some proposals any employer would be wise to keep an eye on if you want to maintain compliance with HR legal requirements.

Echoing Bob Hawke’s 1983 economic summit, the 2022 summit brought together businesses, unions and the community sector in a three-way structure.

It happened as unemployment hit a record low 3.4 per cent in August, while inflation reached a 21-year high, outstripping a rise in wages. The big picture: labour shortages have seen Australian employers desperate for more migrant workers to be let into the country.

HR compliance, employment industry pressures and fair wages were among the topics on the agenda at September’s summit:

  • Maintaining full employment and growing productivity;
  • Equal opportunities and pay for women;
  • Sustainable wage growth and the future of bargaining;
  • Creating safe, fair and productive workplaces;
  • An examination of which megatrends are driving our current and future skills needs;
  • A look at workforce opportunities from clean energy;
  • What skills and training are needed for the future labour market;
  • The role of skilled migration in resolving the current skills and labour shortage crisis;
  • Changing community attitudes and tackling discrimination; and
  • Boosting workforce participation for the high numbers of disabled people not in employment.

In the Issues Paper published ahead the Summit, the Australian Government said its priority foci included:

  • Solving the challenge whereby most Australians have not experienced real wage gains in recent years, as real wages have grown by only 0.1 per cent per year over the past decade and have declined substantially 2021-22.
  • Concerns not enough employees are covered by enterprise agreements (decreased from a peak of 43.4 per cent in 2010 to 35.1 per cent in 2021).
  • Far fewer enterprise agreements being achieved compared to ten years previously.
  • Too many Australians being employed as casuals (23.1 per cent).
  • 8 per cent of the workforce are independent contractors.
  • 250,000 people working in the gig economy (as of 2019).
  • Acute labour shortages in the care workforce, with low pay and challenging conditions, partly as a result of high workloads and staff absences related to COVID-19 and influenza.

Australian businesses should take note of these developments

Ahead of the summit, Treasurer Jim Chalmers told Sky News Australia he welcomed an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) proposal for the summit to consider multi-employer bargaining which should let workers across many sectors band together in seeking better pay and conditions, with Chalmers telling Sky News fixing the “broken” enterprise bargaining system might be “teased out” at the summit.

  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had said in advance of the summit he acknowledges limits on immigration have been “a handbrake” on skills shortages and business activity and as such, employer groups at the summit pushed the Government to increase migration allowances from 160,000 people a year to as high as 200,000. The ACTU said it might support 40,000 more migrants per year but only if wages are increased and the pay floor for temporary skilled migrants rises from $53,000 to $91,000. The Australian Chamber of Commerce suggested $60,000 instead.
  • Unions said they want to restrict employers’ ability to apply to the Fair Work Commission for early cancellation of a workplace pay deal.
  • The National Farmers’ Federation asked for nationwide consistency on the regulation of labour hire, proposing to include non-monetary benefits including food when determining if a pay deal leaves workers “better off overall”.
  • Employers asked for an end to labour market testing, the requirement to advertise jobs locally first, as well as the types of skills lists which limit the occupations that can score temporary visas (this should allow more people to gain visas to come and work in Australia).
  • ACTU called for employers bringing in temporary skilled workers to be required to train Australian citizens.
  • There was discussion about reforms to the so-called ‘gig economy’ meaning the Fair Work Commission may receive powers to set minimum conditions. Consultations on this topic began a week ahead of the Summit and may be announced later in 2022.

Also, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke told media the Labor Government is working towards bringing Secure Jobs Better Pay policies into legislation through a single bill later in the year. The new measures will mean employers need to take a look at whether their HR compliance is up to date.

These measures are expected to include:

  • A new test for casual work;
  • Limits on fixed-term contracts;
  • Criminalisation of wage theft;
  • Making superannuation a workplace right; and
  • Universal entitlement to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave added to National Employment Standards.

You don’t always have to read the news to find out what’s affecting you. Consider a fresh audit of your workplace HR set-up.

With an HR Audit, you’ll get a detailed compliance review of your business to identify your risks. HR Assured will then provide HR support and HR compliance help to fix any problems. But we don’t stop there: we’ll work with you to put together a plan to reach best-practice compliance and HR processes, support you along the way, and applaud you when you get there.