Monday, 13 May 2019

Will change in work laws create more jobs?

By James Pearson

How many new jobs will be created by the big unions' campaign to "change the rules"? How many extra hours of work will be offered to people who want them?

This matters for almost 700,000 Australians who don't have a job, 1.1 million who aren't getting as many hours of work that they want, and over 150,000 who have been unemployed for a year or more.

For our young people, it is even worse, with youth unemployment at 11.4% - more than twice the overall average.

The biggest union of them all, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), is spending more than $10m on its campaign to "change the rules"; and Labor is set to make some of the biggest changes to our workplace relations system in decades.

But where will the jobs come from?

Labor has plans for even higher annual minimum wage increases, to make it harder for employers to remove expired enterprise agreements that have passed their use-by date, to make it harder to use labour hire or offer casual work, and to override the independent decisions of the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates, leave and bargaining.

And big unions want to allow whole industries to be shut down nationally in support of more wage increases.

The Coalition has not said much compared to Labor, but it has indicated it will maintain our existing workplace laws, put in place by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments, with added measures on the governance and accountability of trade unions.

Adding new laws, which place further restrictions and costs on employers, and giving more power to unions, does not create jobs. 

It is businesses, who already provide jobs to well over 80% of people in the workforce, who are best placed to create the new jobs that people want and our economy needs to grow.

Workplace laws can either support or discourage employers to hire, and to keep people in work when times get tough. 

Get the law wrong, or upset the balance between employers and employees, and businesses will have no choice but to cut back on staff. Small business people will end up working even more hours themselves to make ends meet or, worse, close their doors.

Australia has to ensure the next changes we make to our workplace relations system are genuinely fair for as many Australians as possible.

Giving an artificial leg up to unions who represent less than one in 10 Australian private sector workers would not be fair, nor would pricing young people out of work by increasing what is already the world's second highest minimum wage.

There is nothing fair about workplace relations changes that will significantly increase the costs and difficulties of employing people. It's hard to see how they will help increase jobs, living standards or job security.

Fairness lies in guaranteeing a reasonable safety net of rights and protections that are properly balanced and that take into account the needs and interests of not only employees and employers, but also of job seekers and the wider community.

Fairness lies in encouraging collaboration not conflict in Australian workplaces, not stoking a "them and us" mentality between employees and employers.

We enjoy world leading rights and protections in work. Neither Liberal or Labor plans to change that. We will continue to have some of the highest minimum wages in the world. 

But we do have choices. How we choose to regulate work will be critical to the jobs that businesses can create, the living standards we can afford, and how many Australians, in particular, our young people are able to share in the dignity and opportunities that work provides.

The Australian Chamber has launched the Small Business is a Big Deal campaign, with the support of local businesses around the country, calling for simpler rules to make it easier for small businesses to create jobs and run their businesses well.

We encourage you to compare our ideas for the future with union demands for more control over how Australians work, and even higher barriers to creating and sustaining jobs and giving our young people a start in the workforce.

James Pearson is the Chief Executive officer of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

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