Originally published in The Conversation on February 9, 2022

Australia’s unemployment rate declined to 4.2% in December, and it could fall further (below 4%) in the coming year, barring further waves of COVID or other global shocks. This has some forecasters predicting a quick acceleration in wage growth — which has been stuck for almost a decade now at the slowest pace in Australia’s postwar history.

Will a low unemployment rate be sufficient to solve the crisis in Australian wages? In this article published in The Conversation, Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford argues that the historic restructuring of Australia’s labour market institutions over the last half-century (since the last time unemployment was below 4%) will continue to undermine wages, despite apparently tight labour markets.

This table compares regulatory and institutional parameters today, compared to fifty years ago. Across multiple dimensions (including the minimum wage, the Awards system, unions and collective bargaining, and job security), workers have lost the bargaining power they need to win higher wages. Hence labour costs remain suppressed, and business profits hit records, even as unemployment declines.

Labour Institutions Then and NowPlease see Jim’s full article, “Why there’s no magic jobless rate to increase Australians’ wages,” at The Conversation.

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