Ged Kearney address to Future Jobs Forum

Good morning and thanks for the opportunity.

Getting people into jobs, keeping them in jobs, ensuring the jobs that Australians have are secure, safe, well-paid, and provide good conditions is core union business.

The Prime Minister has talked often about the dignity of work. This is dead right.

They are not everything of course, but our jobs help give us our identity, security, and opportunity in life.  

As a society, we should always  be aiming to provide jobs for everyone who is able and willing to work.

The importance of secure jobs

Much of the discussion today will be around how we create jobs, and how we protect jobs. This is as it should be, and unions are focused on these priorities, as much as anyone.  

However, as part of this debate we should also be looking at the type and quality of jobs that we want to see.  

For unions, secure jobs are what we should be looking for.  

Secure jobs are when workers have:

  • Fair and predictable wages and conditions
  • A say in how, where, and when they work, and are consulted about change
  • Access to important conditions like super, annual leave, carers sick leave, long service leave, penalty rates, overtime, redundancy pay
  • training and career opportunities
  • and a safe working environment are also indicators of secure jobs.

  • Where jobs don’t have these characteristics, there are implications for skills and workforce participation.  For example, casual employees are more likely to miss out on training; apprentices don’t complete if they are poorly paid; workers may leave or don’t enter the workforce if they are not able to balance work and family responsibilities.

    Today, the reality is that 40 per cent of Australians are in some kind of insecure work.

    Two million of these workers have no paid leave of any kind and no right to ongoing work. Many have worked the same shifts for years but can still be sacked at short notice, with no entitlement to redundancy pay. Many have no recourse if they are injured at work and have to pay their own workers’ compensation premiums.

    Last week, the ACTU launched a major new national campaign, Secure Jobs. Better Future, we heard from workers who are struggling with the long-term effects of insecure work.

    For example, Kate is a Sydney schoolteacher, who is employed as a casual. For the past 4 years she receives no pay for 11 weeks during school holidays, she spends Christmas and New Year anxious about whether she’ll have work next year.

    She was refused a personal loan to buy a car, yet Kate needs a car to travel to whichever school rings up for her temp teaching job for the day.

    William is a construction worker with three young kids. He’d been employed as an “independent” contractor for 11 years and was sacked when he asked for superannuation to be paid – as his boss was legally obliged to do.

    He spent 5 weeks on a picket line fighting for his rights, and although he won the super, he has now had to look for new work.

    Truong worked in a chicken boning factory and was forced to get an ABN. He was far from an an independent contractor. He was told when to work when he could leave, and had no recourse when he wanted leave to be with his wife and new baby daughter.

    This growth of insecure work is a way of shifting the risks of employers onto the shoulders of workers.

    All the convenience goes to bosses and all the stress and uncertainty associated with insecure work goes to employees - those who can least afford it.

    Meanwhile, profits as a share of national income are at record high levels, while the wages share of national income is at 40-year lows.

    Creating an economy based on insecurity will lead to long-term damage to our social fabric. Where is the incentive for workers to be loyal to their employers and their business' prosperity, or undertake the training they need to further their careers when there is no certainty around their jobs?

    For those of us lucky enough to have secure jobs, it’s easy to think that those in insecure work do it for the convenience, or because it suits their lifestyle.

    That’s a furphy. They usually have no choice.

    Secure jobs should not be seen as a luxury. They are an essential building block of a secure life, a robust economy and a fair society

    I simply don’t believe that the mere creation of jobs is truly beneficial; I believe the creation of good secure jobs is key to our economic future.

    That is why today I am not going to talk about the drivers of job growth, but instead talk about the drivers of secure jobs growth.

    Growth in good jobs is not driven by underinvestment or passing the risks onto individual workers or even by keeping wages low. Good jobs growth is driven by investment.

    Investment in people
    Investment in training and skills
    Investment in infrastructure
    Investment in new technology, innovation and research
    And
    Investment in industry

    Investment in People
    I would like to put people, workers back at the centre of this discussion.  We know from our research in talking to workers from around the country, they want to work, but there are many who cannot find the right opportunity.

    Our recent Working Australia survey of 42000 workers pointed to the importance of skills.

    Of those respondents who had experienced difficulty finding a job in the past five years, nearly one in four (23.7%) attributed this to not having the required education, training or skills.

    15% said it was because of family and carer responsibilities.  

    For those respondents actively looking for work at present, more than a third (36.4%) felt their age was an issue. This was even more apparent for the ‘forgotten blokes’ (45-65) not able to find work. Over half of them said it was because employers felt they were too old, despite their qualifications and experience .

    Solutions
    What are some of the ways we can deal with these issues?

    As proposed in the Union Action Plan for Jobs, we can limit the use of 457 visas to categories of labour where there is a clear and on-going shortage of skilled Australian workers.

    We can educate employers. There needs to be education and awareness raising about the value of hiring older and experienced workers, as well as workers with a disability. To break down any prejudice that exists.

    There also needs to be support for the workers, not only in job training but broader support to help them through the process of transition from one industry to another.
    To assist in the process of matching jobs with available workers in areas of identified or anticipated skill shortages, the ACTU supports the establishment of dedicated online jobs boards.

    Investment in training and skills
    Employers often say that they need skilled workers to grow their businesses and drive job growth, however these same employers are increasingly using insecure employment arrangements.

    This is a troubling catch-22 when it comes to the growth of jobs. Research shows clearly that casual employees are more likely to miss out on training or have to pay for their own training.

    So the more businesses and employers turn to insecure work arrangements, the more they are reducing their chances for growth, innovation and job creation in the future, by having a workforce that is not being trained or skilled.

    Solutions
    Employers need to invest in training their employees.

    There is also a role for government in ensuring that workers are adequately trained.

    There need to be significant investment in education and vocational training systems, investment in the VET sector particularly in TAFE.

    Investment in infrastructure
    Infrastructure is incredibly important to the growth of good jobs, both on a national scale, but also in the workplace.

    A quarter of Census respondents said that the technology they were given to do their job was unsatisfactory. Expecting workers to do a good job and help grow an organisation without having access to the tools they need to do their job is incredibly counterproductive.

    The result is that workers are forced to work extra hours.

    To me it is crazy to think that workers can be expected to increase their productivity and grow organisation when they do not have the time or the infrastructure to do their job within normal hours.

    Solutions
    Employers need to invest in their workplaces, they need to give workers the tools to do their jobs properly.

    Employers also need to create workplace cultures that focus on effective and efficient practices rather than squeezing workers through unpaid overtime.

    Investment in new technology, innovation and research
    Australia has often been the world leader in innovation and the development of new technologies and this needs to continue if we are to have a strong economy that creates good jobs into the future.

    As mentioned in the ACTU Action Plan for Jobs, the $14.8 bill Clean Energy Future investment programs should be linked to Government policies to promote, research and development and job creation.

    Investment in industry
    Most importantly we need to invest in our industries. Industries need to be more strategic about workforce planning and management if there is to be sustainable jobs growth.

    Solutions
    Unions have long advocated for the development of tripartite industry plans which can bring together skills, workforce development, innovation, and other necessary responses to competitive pressures facing a sector. 

    Audit and independent review
    Government should commission an independent review, led by representatives from unions, employers and key government departments.

    This review should scope all levels of Australian government opportunities to promote jobs through procurement practices and expenditure.

    As part of its work the review should also audit the extent to which local trade-exposed industries currently benefit from public contracts.

    Recent jobs losses at Bluescope and elsewhere have put the focus on how we support and protect jobs in sectors facing competitive pressures. For unions, a critical part of any such response is the introduction of robust local content requirements to support local industries.

    The minimum local content should be defined by jobs created rather than money spent.

    As outlined in the ACTU Union Action Plan for Jobs there is also a strong role for government funding for public projects and services, including:

  • Government procurement
  • Industry best practice programs
  • The government also needs to ensure that companies invest in Australia, as outlined in the ACTU Action Plan for Jobs there are a number of ways this can be done:

    Procurement practices by private companies can be regulated to encourage investment in Australia.
    Reviewing the tax system to remove any incentives for companies to offshore, along with the introduction of ‘right to know legislation’, reviews of financial services and business service industries and leveraging the roll-out of the NBN

    Conclusion
    Investment is the key to driving jobs growth in this nation, but the focus should not be on the creation of any jobs, but on the creation of good secure jobs. As it is only good secure jobs that will ensure a sustainable economic future for us all.

    Real people need to be placed back at the centre of the discussion about jobs and there needs to be a recognition that the race to the bottom on working conditions in search of profits is not a sustainable or remotely good long term plan.