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For most Australians, a pay rise seems as rare as our record low 3.4 percent national unemployment rate. And yet, that’s one of the items on the federal government’s wish list at its long-awaited Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra, which begins on Thursday.
Future Women’s Senior Content Producer Sally Spicer sat down with Deputy Managing Director Jamila Rizvi on The Download to tease out what it is and why it matters.
The Jobs and Skills Summit fulfils a promise made by Anthony Albanese during his 2022 federal election campaign to hold a ‘full employment summit’ to get wages and businesses growing together.
After winning the election, the Summit became a fully-fledged plan to bring together unions, employers, civil society and government sectors alike, to address the shared economic challenges affecting our nation.
While unifying these traditionally distinct voices is an admirable goal, Jamila warns it will be more difficult to achieve than the summit makes it seem.
‘That sounds really good in theory, but right now businesses are growing, and most of us know wages are not,’ she said.
‘Employers are saying that if wages do start growing, then the business growth is going to grind to a halt and our economy with it.’
Given that the summit is only two days long, it is unlikely we will see any major changes announced on Friday afternoon or in the days following. However, Jamila says we can be certain some level of change will be incited by the discussions taking place.
‘I think they are likely to come out of it with the parties closer together than they were going in. I think it’ll be a chance for different groups with vested interests to say “here’s what we’re willing to move”. And I think you’ll see some big decisions coming out of the Albanese government over the next 18 months that got their initial movement at this summit,’ she shares.
With this in mind, it is mportant to remember that what happens during the summit does not reflect all the changes that can and will be made to address these issues.
‘I would not expect that you’re gonna get a pay rise on Monday [next week], unless that was being planned anyway,’ says Jamila.
‘It sounds nice, but it’s not going to move that fast.’
Right now Australia is experiencing what is called full employment, where the majority of workforce-aged people able to work currently hold employment.
Usually, most unemployed people are only out of work temporarily, increasing competition between prospective employers and incentivising things like additional benefits, bonuses or pay rises to attract great talent.
And while unemployment has been going down, wages haven’t been rising.
‘During the pandemic, there were a lot of businesses that, with support from the government, actually did pretty well,’ Jamila explains.
‘There are some big profits being posted by major businesses in Australia, but those profits aren’t flowing through to the people who do the work.’
She believes many of the union representatives attending the summit will campaign for changes to wage allocation and the ways in which people can bargain to help resolve this issue.
Australia’s skills and labour shortage makes a discussion about women’s economic participation at the summit inevitable.
‘We need to find more workers, and there are three ways you can do that,’ Jamila says.
‘If we could do what Future Women is doing on a nationwide scale… we could make a real dent and a fairly quick dent in that workforce participation gap between men and women.’
The first is by having more children, but with the severity of the current crisis, this long-term solution is not a viable option.
The second is by looking overseas to outsource work or incentivise more people to come to Australia. But with many countries around the world similarly experiencing labour shortages, the competition is too fierce for this to be reliable.
The final option is to employ more people on home soil with the ability to work but who are choosing not to. Most of these people, says Jamila, are women.
‘A lot of those women would like to work, but work doesn’t work for them,’ she says.
There are many reasons why this is the case: childcare is expensive, flexible work hours aren’t offered by all employers, and arrangements are hard to come by.
‘This is a massive untapped resource,’ Jamila states simply. ‘We could tap into those women if we made the changes required to support them into work.’
At the moment, Future Women is stepping up to the challenge with programs like Jobs Academy and Project Return, giving women the tools they need to prepare for re-entry into the workforce, and helping their employers understand how to support them.
‘If we could do what Future Women is doing on a nationwide scale… we could make a real dent and a fairly quick dent in that workforce participation gap between men and women,’ says Jamila.
Both Jamila Rizvi and FW Managing Director Helen McCabe will be in Canberra over the coming days for the Jobs Summit. Follow us on Instagram for the latest updates.
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