Jennifer Westacott and Tim Reed doorstop interview with Michele O’Neil, Australian Council of Trade Unions and Sally McManus, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Canberra

01 September 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott and Tim Reed doorstop interview with Michele O’Neil, Australian Council of Trade Unions and Sally McManus, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Canberra
Speakers: Tim Reed, President Business Council of Australia; Michele O’Neil, President Australian Council of Trade Unions; Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive Business Council of Australia; Sally McManus, Secretary Australian Council of Trade Unions
Topics: Migration; wages growth; enterprise bargaining; industrial relations; skills


Tim Reed, President Business Council of Australia: … we’ve been working together in advance of the Summit, really capturing the spirit of the Summit. I think what the Prime Minister has asked us all to do is to come together to think about the prosperity of our nation, and how we ensure that that prosperity is shared with all Australians. Together the ACTU and the BCA have spent a lot of time thinking about what are the mechanisms that we can pull that will drive real wage growth? How do we make sure that Australians have better careers going forward? How do we think about skills and training, so that we have people who have the opportunities to really reach their full potential in the years ahead? And how do we think about migration as something that compliments, but in no way replaces, the skills and training that our own citizens receive? So, we're delighted today that we've been able to come to an agreement that covers a wide range of areas, everything from gender equity, to new industries, to migration, and very importantly, to skills and training. And so, with that, I'd like to hand over to Michelle to add a few words.

Michele O’Neil, President Australian Council of Trade Unions: Thanks, Tim. The ACTU and the BCA have looked at what's needed to really make sure that we lift real wages in Australia, that we give the opportunity, for people that are here, to have the skills and training they need for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future. We've also looked at the impact that climate change is having and how critical it is that we work together in terms of decarbonisation and making sure that the jobs that are created in the regions that need them, and that they have good quality jobs that deliver fair wages and conditions for those workers and communities. We've critically looked at the situation of women in Australia, and the need to make sure that we deliver gender equity as a society, that requires changes in terms of making sure that women can participate more at work. And we've agreed to support an increase in paid parental leave as critically important part of that. We also have looked at migration, and said that you have to look at migration and increasing migration as part of what is a proud history in Australia, which has a history of permanent migration, and how critically important it is to switch our country back to a focus more on permanent migration being a positive thing, and something that should work well within our system of delivering high quality skills and training and jobs for local people and making sure that there's verification of skill shortages, and that the people who come here are not exploited. These are really important issues, we've come together and agreed on. We look forward to the discussions over the next couple of days to build on these ideas that we’ve put forward today.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Well, this landmark agreement between the ACTU and the BCA really embodies what this summit is about, we share a collective view that we want our country to be a high wage, high productivity society, we want people to be better off, we want people to have good lives, we want people to be included. And we've reached a number of really landmark agreements: migration was a positive force, but resetting it towards permanent migration; getting rid of exploitation of overseas workers; making sure that women participate, not just to get a job, but advance to a better paid parental leave system and a better childcare system. Making sure that for disadvantaged people we remove the barriers to people to work, people with disabilities, that we absolutely fire up on Indigenous advancement. That we actually need to take a really proactive approach to managing the transition on climate. That we've got a renewed approach to diversifying our economy and fundamentally that we get an industrial relations system that's fair, simpler, that allows more people to bargain, keeps the integrity of the system and that people are better off. Particularly when they enter into an enterprise agreement, we want to see enterprise agreements restored, we want to see them used by more people because that's how people get higher wages. But we want to see that system fairer, less legalistic, and open to more parties. This is a huge step forward, underpins the next couple of days, the opportunity for Australia to reset to make sure that all Australians have more prosperous lives, better wages, great jobs, secure work, and a much more prosperous future.

Sally McManus, Secretary Australian Council of Trade Unions: This agreement is about all Australians. It's about businesses succeeding, but it's also about working people succeeding as well. In order to do that really important changes that need to happen, and a lot of those are detailed by my colleagues and they've just gone through that. A key part of all of that is making our wages system simpler than it is at the moment. When it was first designed it wasn't designed with that principle in mind. We aim to achieve the same simplicity that Keating and Kelty achieved and that's what we're working towards whilst at the same time maintaining the BOOT test so that everyone is better off overall, so those are our ambitions. We know this after working with these laws for a period of time, this is absolutely essential if we are to see successful enterprise bargaining, unions obviously want to see more forms of bargaining and have those discussions post job summit. The number one thing in terms of going forward is making sure that more Australians share in the prosperity of our country, all Australians share in the prosperity of our country, that means we've got to see wage rises, got to see that return to the point that they should be when people are sharing productivity gains, as well as ensuring that they are keeping up with cost of living.

Journalist: Sally, on migration are you both in agreeance on lifting the intake to 200,000 a year? And on the income threshold can business afford to pay skilled migrants $90,000 year? and is there any wriggle room?

Michele: So, in relation to the two questions, firstly, we agree that there should be a lift in permanent migration, we haven't put a figure on it. But we have a common understanding that moving towards a more permanent migration system and lifting the number of permanent migrants goes along with the other things we've said about making sure that both people have access to jobs and skills and opportunities. Secondly, in relation to TISMET the amount that applies in terms of skilled migrants, we've also agreed that it should be lifted, we haven't put a figure on what that should be. But we know that something that's been in place for 2013, and hasn’t increased, we agree needs to be increased.

Journalist: What changes, if any, do you envision are needed to the BOOT?

Jennifer: Well, the first thing is that we want to maintain the better off over all test, we want to maintain its integrity, that everyone is better off. But we think that could be simpler, it could be less litigious, it could be easier to use and we think it could be designed in a way that encourages more people to bargain but the fundamental integrity of the system, which is that everyone is better off we need to maintain. On migration, we do agree that the number needs to be higher and obviously that's going to be a matter for government, we do agree that needs to shift towards permanent migration, we also agree that we need to make sure that we're catching up on that backlog of visas. In terms of that number that’s a matter for government, but we are absolutely on a unity ticket, that the number needs to go up, that amount needs to go up because as Michele said, it hasn't been reviewed for a long time.

Journalist: Towards the end of the Summit are we going to be seeing an enormous pile of principles being agreed upon by all business, peak and union lobbies?

Sally: That’s a matter for government with how all that happens within the Summit. I just wanted to add in terms of the BOOT test we shouldn't be surprised that laws become more complicated over time. Where they get interpreted by the Commission, they get interpreted by boards, even if the intention in the beginning is to have a system that works simply, it isn't now. And so, you need to review and upgrade it without compromising the fundamental principle that everyone is better off over all. We've got lots of ideas about how to do that actually, the BCA and the ACTU have worked very hard over a period of time to work through some of those ways that you can maintain that absolute integrity and not letting bargaining being used as a means of cutting wages. And at the same time making it simple because if it is no good for workers, if it takes months and months and months and months for agreements to be agreed to, that just means months and months without getting pay rises. And so, it's a common interest for both of us to fix this because once you reach an agreement and that agreement is one that does leave you better off over all, it just doesn't make sense that you should have to spend a whole lot of money having to litigate it, and secondly, wait for a long time for pay rises if it is investigated.

Journalist: Tony Burke has said that he's very interested in your proposal for multi-employer bargaining but needs more detail on the model that you put forward. When and how is that going to be decided? Are you hopeful that could be included in the industrial relations bill that will be dealt with in the last half of this year after the Summit?

Sally: We want to get to work on this immediately. It's Summit Thursday and Friday, Saturday, Sunday, we'll probably have a bit of a rest but, on Monday we'll get working on that straightaway. The way the union movement sees this is that every day that we wait is every day that Australian families are struggling to pay bills, they’ve waited so long on this, any way to fix the issue of wages growth, so many people that have been left out of the bargaining system. If we can achieve this quickly. We'll aim to do that

Journalist: On the BOOT are you willing to relinquish the current requirements to consider theoretical workers?

Sally: Does this go to the issue of rosters? Listen this is something I've already spoken about we think that there's a simple way to safeguard agreements. So, without boring everyone with details basically, at the moment, the Commissioner has to look at all these hypothetical rosters, hypothetical rosters that no one may ever, ever have to work. And of course, we can look at every hypothetical roster as a 24/7 business, that's a big job, right? So that is slowing the commission down. So, we do think there's a mechanism to stopping that necessity to take ages to do that. And also having a safeguard if after an agreement is reached, that's turned out somehow that someone’s worse off, because a new employee that comes along or a new manager and changes it all, that you can rectify that without overturning the entire agreement. But having said that we are having to talk on those details and that was an idea that the BCA and the ACTU had but obviously we've not had a chance to talk to the government about those ideas yet.

Journalist: Just on migration, you haven’t agreed on a specific number when it comes to permanent migration, is that because you can’t agree on that number? Or you would prefer the government provide a steer on that?

Jennifer: The government has committed to setting up Jobs and Skills Australia, that’s an organisation that should work with government to give that independent advice about the level of migration and obviously they will give advice about the thresholds [inaudible] with more detailed work alongside their important job with the skills system to make sure that we're training people with right skills, that we are revitalising apprenticeships, revitalising the TAFE and vocational sector and that is why we support the government is establishing Jobs and Skills Australia.

Michele: The other thing I'll add is that we're committed to stamping out exploitation of workers that come here, these things have to go hand in hand. We know that there should be an increase in permanent migration, we've talked about shifting the balance back to that, but critically important, we need to make sure that workers that come to this country are treated fairly, that they're not exploited. And we've agreed on measures such as, there should be higher penalties if there is exploitation, and that people should have access to organisations, professional organisations and unions as part of the arriving here to make sure that those protections are good and clear.


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