Washup of Jobs and Skills Summit

Washup of Jobs and Skills Summit

Labor’s much-mooted Jobs and Skills Summit was held on the 1st and 2nd of September 2022, to the expected fanfare. Prior to the summit, an issues paper was released in an attempt to sharpen the focus of those in attendance. With a view to getting a level of consensus that could be translated into legislative reform, the issue that attracted the most media attention just prior to and during the forum was multi-employer bargaining, which did appear to gain qualified support from the small business council while larger employer groups such as ACCI and AiGroup remained sceptical.

Some of the matters that were discussed which are potentially relevant to maritime industry employers include:

Skilled migration

  • Increase the permanent Migration Program planning level to 195,000 in 2022‑23 to help ease widespread, critical skills shortages
  • Increase the duration of post-study work rights by allowing two additional years of stay for recent graduates with select degrees in areas of verified skills shortages to strengthen the pipeline of skilled labour in Australia, informed by advice from a working group
  • Encourage more migration from our region by reforming the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme and creating a new Pacific engagement visa (existing commitment)

While there were limited definitive immediate actions that were agreed to increase temporary skilled migration (as distinct from permanent migration) the adequacy of the current lists including the skilled occupations lists, the pathways from temporary to permanent migration, the income threshold and the labour market testing regime are all slated for further work. The Government has previously committed to the creation and funding of a statutory body, Skills and Jobs Australia. This body will hold a key role in determining the occupations for which temporary migration will be accessible.

Skills and training

  • A $1 billion one‑year National Skills Agreement that will provide additional funding for fee‑free TAFE in 2023, while a longer‑term agreement that drives sector reform and supports women’s workforce participation is negotiated
  • Accelerate the delivery of 465,000 additional fee‑free TAFE places, with 180,000 to be delivered next year, and with costs shared with the states and territories on a 50:50 basis
  • The Government will establish the Jobs and Skills Australia work plan in consultation with all jurisdictions and stakeholders, to address workforce shortages and build long term capacity in priority sectors

Most announcements in the skills space focused on the VET sector with discussion around the central role of the newly created statutory body, Skills and Jobs Australia. In the further work to be done discussion, there was a clear focus on the funding model and access to apprenticeships.

Changes to the Fair Work Act

The Government has committed to a raft of changes to the Act, which include (but are not limited to) the below. The issues that have attracted the most attention both prior to and during the summit include the supposed “unilateral” termination of Enterprise Agreements which have passed their nominal expiry date, as well as changes to the Better Off Overall Test including the assessment of the “hypothetical worker”.

  • Ensure workers and businesses have flexible options for reaching agreements, including removing unnecessary limitations on access to single and multi‑employer agreements
  • Remove unnecessary complexity for workers and employers, including making the Better Off Overall Test simple, flexible and fair
  • Give the Fair Work Commission the capacity to proactively help workers and businesses reach agreements that benefit them, particularly new entrants, and small and medium businesses
  • Ensure the process for agreement terminations is fit for purpose and fair, and sunsets so-called ‘zombie’ agreements
  • Provide stronger protections for workers against adverse action, discrimination, and harassment

Barriers to the Workforce Participation

The Government has committed to a range of actions relating to workforce inclusion and the reporting of gender pay gaps for employers of a certain size. This includes commitments to:

  • Strengthen existing reporting standards to require employers with 500 or more employees to commit to measurable targets to improve gender equality in their workplaces
  • Require businesses with 100 employees or more to publicly report their gender pay gap to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

Industry Focus

  • The Commonwealth and South Australian Government will co‑chair a South Australian Defence Industry Workforce and Skills Taskforce to support delivery of Australia’s defence capabilities, including critical maritime capabilities such as frigates and submarines

With geopolitical tensions in the region, MIAL has continued to advocate the need to ensure the retention of an adequate level of sovereign maritime capability with the potential to complement Australia’s defence capabilities in times of national need. A defence industry workforce and skills taskforce would complement existing work on the yet-to-be-established shipping taskforce as well as the work currently being done by industry, including the development of an options paper together with AREEA, to address the impending maritime skills shortage.

Next steps

While the published outcomes of the jobs and skills summit commit the Government to a number of actions, at this stage there is still no sign of draft legislation or an indication as to whether the measures (where legislative amendment is required) will have the requisite crossbench support. While the Greens have been vocal that they will not simply rubber stamp IR changes, it’s likely that many of the changes will be supported by the Greens, with the government requiring the support of one additional cross-bench senator (assuming Greens support) to pass legislation. Accordingly, there is significant further work to be done.

The Government has also committed to developing an Employment white paper, which will involve a consultation and submission process. According to Treasury this process will open later in 2022.