The Australian Council of Trade Unions is sponsoring a series of webinars for union members, delegates, officials, and leaders on the current crisis in the cost of living in Australia. The surge in inflation since economic re-opening after COVID lockdowns has obviously intensified that crisis. But the seeds for it were planted long ago: by a decade of historically weak wage growth, a speculative property price bubble, and a systematic efforts to weaken collective bargaining and unionisation.
The Centre for Future Work and the Carmichael Centre are pleased to announce the launch of a new podcast project titled Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today, presented by the Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow at the Carmichael Centre, Dr Mark Dean, and comedian and ecology researcher, Duncan Turner.
There is growing understanding that care work — including jobs in aged care, disability services, early child education and care, and others — is of growing importance to future employment and wage trends, as well as to the quality of life of Australians who depend on these social and community services. For too long, jobs in these growing sectors have been devalued. Government underfunding and weak labour and quality standards have reinforced the degradation of work in care sectors. But with intense labour shortages, public concern about inadequate quality, and the need to expand services to meet social needs, there is now more widespread recognition that care jobs must be improved, and quickly: with more funding, better training, limits on private delivery, multi-employer bargaining, and more.
The collapse in agreement coverage under Australia’s enterprise bargaining system in Australia in recent years, particularly in the private sector, has focused attention on the need for reforms that will give more workers the effective ability to collectively negotiate better wages and conditions. In the private sector, coverage by a current enterprise agreement has fallen by half since 2013: to below 11% of all workers by March 2021. No wonder wages are lagging so far behind inflation.
The Fair Work Commission recently announced important changes to the SCHADS Award (which sets minimum standards for workers in home care, disability services, community agencies, and other vital services) as part of its award review process. This culminates several years of research and advocacy by unions representing workers in these sectors, aimed at improving job quality and stability in these vital but undervalued positions. The Centre for Future Work provided expert testimony to the Commission as part of its review.
The debate over wages, prices, and living standards heated up even further this week, with the release of new ABS statistics showing continuing weakness in wages despite the acceleration of inflation. The latest data from the ABS Wage Price Index (WPI) shows nominal wages grew just 2.4% over the 12 months ending in March. That is less than half as fast as consumer prices grew (5.1%), producing the biggest decline in real wages this century.
Multiple negative economic and social consequences have emerged across Anglophone industrial countries from the retrenchment of collective bargaining systems, including slowing wages growth, rising insecure work, inequality, and declining productivity and growth – bringing urgency to proposals for collective bargaining reform.
As COVID and recession gripped the world, through 2020 and most of 2021 Australia recorded one of the best outcomes: lower infection, fewer deaths, and a faster, stronger economic recovery. That seeming victory has been squandered, however by the appalling and infuriating events of recent weeks. Purportedly in the name of ‘protecting the economy’, key political leaders (led by the Commonwealth and NSW governments) threw the doors open to the virus at exactly the wrong time: just as the super-infectious Omicron variant was taking hold.
Casual employment has dominated Australia’s labour market recovery from COVID-19. And the right of employers to hire staff on a casual basis in almost any role they choose – including jobs that on their face appear have permanent characteristics – seems to have been cemented by recent amendments to the Fair Work Act, and by the High Court’s recent ruling in the WorkPac v. Rossato case.
Across the ditch, the Ardern government in New Zealand is undertaking an ambitious and multi-dimensional effort to address low wages, inequality, and poor job quality. NZ unions have just won the introduction of Fair Pay Agreements, planned for implementation in 2022. FPAs will allow working people to bargain collectively across sectors and start to correct the income and power imbalance between workers and employers.
The increasing precarity of economic life for many people is being reflected in a growing output of film and TV, including the work of Ken Loach (‘Sorry We Missed You’, ‘I, Daniel Blake’), Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s 2019 documentary ‘American Factory’, Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning ‘Parasite’ as well as his ‘Snowpiercer’ film and subsequent TV series, the interplanetary class divisions explored by the Syfy Channel’s ‘The Expanse’, and Chloé Zhao’s Oscar-winning ‘Nomadland’. The Centre for Future Work’s first film review considers a new entry in this recent canon of art imitating life.
We are constantly told that the world of work is being turned upside down by ‘technology’: some faceless, anonymous, uncontrollable force that is somehow beyond human control. There’s no point resisting this exogenous, omnipresent force. The best thing to do is get with the program… and learn how to program! Acquiring the right skills (usually assumed to be STEM or computer skills) is the best way to protect yourself in this brave new high-tech future.
Women have been uniquely and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession: losing more jobs and hours, shouldering a higher unpaid caring work burden, and undertaking essential and frontlines jobs. Without targeted action to rebuild women’s jobs and ease caring demands, decades of collective advances toward decent paid work could be eroded.
The Centre for Future Work’s Jim Stanford, and Alison Pennington feature in a collection of interviews on technology, work, climate, and the role of unions, for a new online course Power, Politics and Influence at Work delivered by the University of Manchester, UK.
The Commonwealth government tabled its 2020-21 budget on 6 October, six months later than the usual timing because of the dramatic events associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession. There is no doubt it is a budget unlike any other in Australia’s postwar history. While the budget certainly unleashes unprecedented fiscal power, its underlying logic and specific policy design are unsatisfactory in many ways. We present here analysis and commentary on several aspects of the budget, drawing on input from all of the Centre’s research staff: Economist and Director Dr. Jim Stanford, Senior Economist Alison Pennington, and Economist Dan Nahum.
With millions facing unemployment and crisis-accelerated job transitions, public investment in the skills and earning capabilities of Australians will be critical to our post-pandemic recovery.
Training must play a vital role in reorienting the economy after the pandemic, supporting workers training for new jobs including millions of young people entering a depressed labour market without concrete pathways to work. But what kind of jobs will we be doing in 2040? And how prepared is Australia’s skills system (and universities specifically) to play this important role now?
The COVID-19 pandemic is producing an unprecedented shutdown of large parts of the national and global economies. Our Director Dr. Jim Stanford provided an overview of the coming recession, how it differs from previous downturns, and the best ways for government to respond to protect Australians as much as possible from the economic fall-out.
109 Australian economists and policy experts have signed an open letter, initiated by the Centre for Future Work, supporting a government wage subsidy to prevent mass unemployment during the coming economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford gave a seminar presentation in Sydney on 21 November based on his research paper about the historical and empirical relationship between superannuation contributions and wage growth.
Dr. Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, appeared before the National Youth Commission on 31 October in Sydney to discuss the challenges facing young workers in Australia’s labour market.
In this comprehensive but readable commentary, our Director Jim Stanford challenges five stereotypical claims that are often advanced in debates over the future of work.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission’s decision to press charges against 54 steelworkers for attending a political rally, with potential fines of up to $42,000 per person, is abhorrent on any level. No worker should face this kind of intimidation for participating in peaceful protest.
You would think that after 5 consecutive years of wage forecasts that wildly overestimated actual experience, the government might have learned from its past errors – and published a wage forecast more in line with reality. But not this government. They are still trying to convince Australian workers, who haven’t seen real average wages rise in over 5 years, that better times are just around the corner. And rosy wage forecasts are helpful in justifying their equally optimistic revenue forecasts: since if Australians are earning more money, they will be paying more taxes!
124 labour policy experts have today published an open letter calling for proactive measures to help accelerate the rate of wages growth in Australia’s economy. The legal experts, economists, and other policy analysts agreed that “stronger wages in the future would contribute to a stronger, more balanced and fairer Australian economy,” and they proposed several broad strategies to boost wages.
A unique conjuncture of economic and political factors has created an opportunity for a historic change in the direction of Australia’s workplace and industrial policies. That’s the conclusion of Dr. Jim Stanford, Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work, in a major review article published in Economic and Labour Relations Review, an Australian academic journal.
There has been a lot of discussion about “living wages” in recent years – in Australia, and internationally. And now the idea has become a hot election topic. The ACTU wants the government to boost the federal minimum wage so it’s a true living wage. Opposition leader Bill Shorten has hinted he’s open to the idea. Business leaders predict economic catastrophe if the minimum wage is increased.
Australia’s manufacturing sector has been experiencing an important and welcome rebound during the last two years. The turnaround has been documented and analysed in previous Centre for Future Work research (including studies published in 2017 and 2018 as part of the National Manufacturing Summit, co-sponsored by the Centre).