Australia’s prosperity to continue under strong plan for more jobs and better skills development
10 May, 2011 | Media Release
Responding to the 2011 Federal Budget, ACTU President Ged Kearney said:
“The 2011-12 Federal Budget contains welcome new initiatives to get more Australians into work, improve skills and create long-term opportunities for some of our community’s most disadvantaged people, while continuing the strong economic management the Labor Government has shown since the Global Financial Crisis.
“Unions believe a strong Australia is built on the foundations of a stable economy, with decent work and decent wages available for all.
“So the ACTU is pleased the Labor Government has continued its steady economic management, with this year’s Budget forecasting above-trend real GDP growth of 4% in the next financial year, delivering half-a-million extra jobs within two years, on top of more than 300,000 jobs created in the past 12 months.
“This Budget contains a clear vision for the future of the Australian workforce, with the allocation of $3 billion over the next six years towards skills, training and productivity.
“There is no more important investment than in Australians’ skills and it is pleasing this package contains a number of elements unions have long called for.
“The new $558 million National Workforce Development Fund is the centrepiece reform, and will deliver 130,000 new high quality training places to equip Australians for the jobs of the future. This fund will be administered by the new National Workforce and Productivity Agency, an agency that unions have been calling for. The agency will also conduct vital research and planning into Australia’s workforce development needs.
“The consolidation of the policy role of Skills Australia into this new body to control funding of productivity and training programs will ensure better planning for the future workforce. In particular, the industry co-contribution model for skills investment will ensure that employers pay a fair share of the cost of training their workers.
“However, unions have several concerns about some of the approaches chosen by the Government in delivering this year’s Budget - particularly in relation to aspects of its carrot and stick approach to getting more people into the workforce.
“We believe programs to encourage welfare recipients into the workforce must be carefully managed, and unions are concerned that the Budget contains some measures that verge on punitive against the parents with teenage children, teenage mothers and people with disability. We believe greater use of the carrot and less of the stick will have a better outcome.
“Further, the Budget correctly focussed on medium-term challenges created by the resources boom, but the Government’s focus on returning to surplus by 2012-13 has led to some savings measures that were not necessarily fair or equitable, including welfare changes and the delay of paid paternity leave by six months.
“Government debt remains low by developed world standards and easily manageable, and we do not believe it is necessary to increase the public service efficiency dividend over the next two years. This will cost jobs and will inevitably result in some cuts to public services.
“But we do support several cuts the Labor Government has made to expenditure that boost the sustainability of the Budget in an equitable way that is consistent with the long-held principles of the labour movement. These include reducing the discount for up-front payment of student fees, and reducing the ability for high income families to avoid tax by distributing trust income to children.
“Having steered Australia through the economic downturn, the Government is correct to look at ways of sustaining the boom and spreading its benefits to all Australian households, industries and regions.
“However, unions remain to be convinced that increasing Australia’s skilled migration program is anything but a band-aid solution. Skilled migration, particularly Enterprise Migration Agreements, must be subjected to stringent labour market testing, and must not be allowed to undermine the wages and conditions of Australian workers.
“The continued focus on infrastructure spending is also something unions welcome as a means to more and better jobs across a range of industries.
“We support an additional $220 million to support apprentices through mentoring, to encourage a higher completion rate. But it is disappointing there is no mention in the Budget of a review of apprentice and training wages and conditions by Fair Work Australia when research shows low apprentice wages acts as a disincentive to apprentices completing their training.
“We are encouraged by the Government’s overall commitment to building workforce participation and we support positive measures which will serve as incentives to some of our more disadvantaged community members, including increasing the amount young people can earn before beginning to lose Youth Allowance; allowing Disability Support Pension recipients to work up to 30 hours per week without jeopardising their payment; and wage subsidies for the very long-term unemployed.
“We also welcome the increased spending on mental health reform, which will also lead to more Australians contributing to their communities and the economy.”
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