In May 2020, the ACTU released a document on rebuilding the economy and jobs beyond the COVID crisis. it urges the adoption of 2 million additional secure jobs by the end of 2021. By secure jobs, it means “jobs where permanent roles are the norm. Employees are entitled to at least a living wage, paid leave, public holidays, occupational health and safety protections, and collective bargaining”.
Here is a summary of the document:
Improve the quality and security of jobs by creating 2 million new permanent jobs and halving the number of insecure jobs.
The growth of insecure work is no accident. It is a result of a conscious business model that promotes the fragmentation of traditional employment arrangements. Revise labour laws and labour market institutions:
- Re-visit our wage-fixing mechanisms;
- Strengthen the capacity for workers to protect their rights and genuinely participate in change by organising in their trade unions;
- Give casuals the right to convert to permanent work after 6 months of employment;
- Put a limit on the maximum length of fixed-term contracts (Australia is one of only seven OECD countries that does not do so).
- Expand coverage of the Fair Work Act to include all workers rather than just employees. (Nineteenth-century definitions of employment have left many workers, like gig economy workers, outside the protection of our industrial laws.)
Lift wages and living standards.
- This crisis has highlighted the critical nature of the work of many of the lowest paid and precarious workers in Australia who have led us through this crisis.
- Injecting stimulus into the economy through public sector employment and wage growth lifts the living standards of workers and market expectations on wages.
Invest in public and community services that are our first line of defence against ‘shocks’ like COVID-19, bushfires, and drought.
- Critical services that we have relied upon the market to deliver, such as aviation, research, and development, regional media, energy, utilities, transport, education, and health need more active ownership, control, and investment by government.
- The rebuilding of the public sector to ensure capacity is available where and when it is needed requires an active rethink.
- Rather than capping the public service, the approach should be to limit the use of insecure, temporary and rolling contracts.
- Inefficiencies in having to manage constantly rolling employment, staff turnover, new contractors, inductions, and re-applications detract from time and effort that is needed to improve our nation’s capacity to respond to shocks and emergencies and deliver essential services in times of crisis.
Support nation-building projects that create decent jobs and set Australia up for a better future
- Key priorities could include government investment in public transport projects, inter-city fast rail, sustainable public, and community housing, new hospitals, schools & TAFEs, and electricity transmission network upgrades.
- Undertake a capability assessment of our domestic manufacturing industries to ensure Australian workers and industry are ready and equipped to participate in and drive the supply chain required for the future and for this infrastructure pipeline.
- Such a commitment to major projects manufactured and built by Australian workers will stimulate the domestic economy through jobs and wages as well as through the improved productivity infrastructure projects provide.
- Our manufacturing sector has declined to around 7 percent of the workforce. By contrast, manufacturing makes up about 16 percent of the workforce in Germany, Japan, and Switzerland.
- Rebuilding Australia through new and creative partnerships with major super funds is an opportunity for government to provide returns to working people through increasing their retirement savings, creating jobs, and ensuring projects that deliver large social benefits go ahead.
Education and training
- As important as investing in physical infrastructure is investing in social capacity through skills and training.
- As our third-largest export, education has failed to deliver secure jobs and increasing incomes for the majority of the people who work in the industry. With the collapse of people being able to freely move around the globe the entire industry is in crisis.
- Public investment in education delivers social benefits and an excellent rate of return.
- The contrast between federal decimation of TAFE funding and states where access to TAFE has been a centre-piece of government policy provides insight into how rebuilding TAFE, with strong links into key sectors and pathways into employment, can help improve economic outcomes.
- Government, as an employer, provider, and regulator, must ensure high-quality skills and training.
- Public money going to private providers has not improved outcomes or lead to better employment outcomes.
- The use of public money should be tied to outcomes that have a public benefit and public institutions are best placed to deliver on this goal.
- Where industrial transformation is underway, communities should be supported to re-skill and reorient for the future through the delivery of quality public education and training programs.
Dealing with the crisis of climate change
- The Federal Government should align our economic recovery with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century at the latest.
- Investment and policy support to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency and productivity across our economy will create jobs and save businesses and households money in energy bills.
- Ensuring reliable and sustainable energy to existing industry is critical in avoiding large scale closures.
- Creating new industries that take advantage of Australia’s world-class renewable energy and minerals industries to produce zero emissions metals and mineral products can create thousands of jobs in regional Australia and position our nation at the forefront of low-carbon economic activity.
- Investing in electricity transmission upgrades will support Australia’s energy transition, maintain energy security, and deliver high-quality regional jobs.
- Restoring the damaged environment including waterways and landscapes and increasing resources to support and manage the natural environment including parks and conservation areas, can create jobs in areas most affected by recent droughts and bushfires.
Improve social, health and economic outcomes for people and communities that experience disadvantage
- Support actions and investment to improve public and social housing, address homelessness and invest in physical and social infrastructure in Aboriginal communities.
- Free childcare and the recent increase to the Jobseeker supplement and other welfare payments, clearly indicate that there is value in supporting the participation of our lowest-income households in the economy, not just for their benefit but for the strength of the entire society and economy. Those measures should be made permanent.
Embrace industry policy and ‘Australian made’
- The international economy will recover much more slowly than our domestic economy. As highlighted above we need to bolster both supply and demand locally. This will require initiatives to build domestic demand, support Australian businesses, create good jobs, and ensure that workers have the income to buy more of the products and services produced and provided within Australia.
- The Federal Government should embrace industry policy and develop detailed sector by sector roadmaps and plans.
- Key industries like manufacturing, tourism, education, health services, hospitality, construction, health care, education, and others have diverse challenges and intersect with many of the already identified opportunities for rebuilding Australia. The crisis has highlighted vulnerabilities in medical equipment and manufacturing supply chains.
- The Federal Government can support local jobs and industry policy through government procurement.
- Government procurement rules should explicitly encourage and support local suppliers, manufacturers, and service providers, with a focus on the security of employment that is offered.
- Any trade agreements Australia commits to should support these objectives. Trade is neither inherently good nor bad and it is the terms of the deal which decide the impact it will have on our nation. Trade deals that give away our sovereignty, jobs, and undermine household incomes are bad. Trade deals that give us more customers, support our national interest, deliver social and environmental benefits, and lift wages, both here and overseas, are good.