Greens Leader and Workplace Relations spokesperson Adam Bandt has said any deal reached at the Jobs and Skills summit risked becoming nothing more than an ‘historical footnote’ without Greens support, as unless Labor chooses to work with the union-busting Liberals, the only pathway for legislative implementation of Summit outcomes requires Greens support.
Mr Bandt said Australian workers need a wage rise now to deal with the cost of living crisis. Mr Bandt also said the Greens would move to amend any post-Summit legislation to lift wages now, saying a narrow focus on skills and productivity, while important, will leave too many people behind and take far too long to lift the living standards of everyday people.
Backing the ACTU’s focus on the care economy and their call for industry-wide bargaining, Mr Bandt said the Greens would go even further and push in the Senate for a greater role for government in setting wages across the board, especially in sectors where women are the majority of the workforce.
The Greens Finance and Employment spokesperson, Senator Barbara Pocock, is also attending the summit, and said the upcoming Jobs and Skills summit was ‘doomed to fail’ to lift wages and living standards if it refused to consider the tax and social security system, especially the Greens’ push for free childcare, accusing the Labor government of trying do ‘half a Hawke’, noting that Bob Hawke’s summit resulted in the creation of Medicare only because issues of broader importance to workers were on the table.
Senator Pocock, who is chairing the country’s first ever Senate Select inquiry into Work and Care, will argue at the summit workers need both a pay rise, and practical help with the cost of childcare, health and housing - things that are all essential to participation in work. The Stage 3 tax cuts can be used to fund this, rather than boost the income of the very wealthy and fuel further inequality.
Mr Bandt and Senator Barbara Pocock will attend the summit. Mr Bandt said he will outline further Greens’ proposed reforms to the Fair Work Act that the party will raise as amendments to any post-Summit legislation in a speech to Kingston Reid’s Jobs Summit ‘Fringe Festival’ on Wednesday 31 August in Canberra.
At the opening of Bob Hawke’s summit, the then Prime Minister sought “to seek broad agreement on the relationship between a successful prices and incomes policy and the implementation of policies on industrial relations, job creation and training, taxation, social security, health, education, and the other major community services”. However, the current government’s ‘Jobs and Skills Summit Issues Paper’ has sought to exclude discussion of many issues relevant to working people, and has relegated the issue of wage growth to a discussion about bargaining (see p. 5) instead of considering more fundamental reforms.
The government is focussed on immediate action to deal with skills and labour shortages, but is failing to offer any similarly immediate solutions to low wage growth. For workers covered by enterprise agreements still in force, any reforms to bargaining may not flow through for up to 3 years, and workers in hard-to-bargain sectors need help lift their wages now.
Mr Bandt’s intervention follows a speech to the National Press Club where he said the Greens will have a greater focus in this term of Parliament on the economy and cost of living, as Labor becomes a centre-right party, the Liberals become a far-right irrelevance and the Greens take the mantle of Australia’s social democratic party.
The Greens will seek two amendments to the Fair Work Act to lift wages, with further amendments to be announced next Wednesday:
set the minimum wage at 60% of the full time adult median wage, which would result in a new minimum wage of $23.76 per hour, to be phased in by the Fair Work Commission; and
lift minimum wages in women-dominated industries faster, including in the care economy, by guaranteeing that award rates will rise by at least 0.5% above CPI in women-dominated industries.
Quotes attributable to Greens Leader and spokesperson for Workplace Relations Adam Bandt MP:
“Government must lift wages now. Not in 3 years, not when there have been skills reforms, but now.
“Unless Labor chooses to work with the union-busting Liberals, any changes to workplace law will need the Greens in the Senate.
“Summit outcomes could languish as an historical footnote unless they’ve got Greens support.
“The Greens won’t be a rubber stamp for government side-deals with big corporations.
“If and when any proposals from the Jobs Summit hit the Senate, the Greens will push to change the law to guarantee wage rises.
“Liberal and Labor have spent three decades stripping back awards and now people are struggling. Government can’t keep leaving people’s wages up to the market.
“The government should treat low wages, especially in the care economy, as urgently as they’re treating skills shortages.
“We need to lift low wages from the bottom up, not just wait for any future skills reform to trickle down.”
Quotes attributable to Senator Barbara Pocock, Greens spokesperson for employment:
“If the test is making working people’s lives better, the summit is doomed to fail unless it lifts low wages now and provides immediate cost of living relief.
“Instead of the unfair Stage 3 tax cuts, the government should fund free childcare, get dental into Medicare and build affordable housing, giving households real cost living relief immediately.
“Bob Hawke understood that tax, social security and health reform are part of the bigger picture, but this government is only doing half a Hawke.
“It will be a lost opportunity – and more of the same – if women come out of the Jobs and Skills Summit with actions that go in the wrong direction, like keeping Stage 3 tax cuts that deliver twice the benefit to men than women while refusing to make childcare free.
“While promising ‘a strong overarching focus on women’s experiences’ and a focus on equal opportunities and equal pay’, the Summit Issues Paper offers no practical pathway forward to improve outcomes for women. It’s a case, so far, of all talk no action.
“We need pay increases in the fast expanding care and services economy. We need targeted access for women to the expanding skilled jobs sector as the energy transition unfolds across Australia. We need to make childcare free. And we need to improve the supports for workers with caring responsibilities, especially casuals, by giving them not only paid domestic violence leave, but the chance of a paid holiday and sick leave.”