The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) says September’s Jobs and Skills Summit needs to look at long term economic reform in the areas of women’s workforce participation, including childcare, as well as skilled migration and training and education to accelerate Australia’s economic recovery.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra says existing labour and skill shortages are crippling the economy and the Summit is a golden opportunity for government and industry to address the challenges together.
“There’s rising inflation, increased fuel and energy costs, interest rate hikes, and ongoing supply chain issues, but what’s top of mind for retailers right now are labour and skill shortages. Businesses just simply can’t find enough staff, be they customer facing roles or more specialist positions in data and digital. From our smallest cafes to our largest multi-nationals, the issue is widespread,” Mr Zahra said.
“There are nearly half a million job vacancies across the country, including over 40,000 in retail trade alone, which is an increase of nearly 40% in just three months. The staffing challenge is a handbrake for business, and many are not trading at their full potential.
“The Jobs and Skills Summit will be an important gathering where we can review existing policy settings and embark on reforms that will accelerate our economic recovery.
“There are some practical measures we’d like to see discussed at the Summit. They include a review of employment income as part of the age pension income test so we can enable more mature age workers and pensioners to fill existing gaps in the workforce.
“We also need to see reduced red tape around immigration to streamline the process for foreign workers into the country. Unfortunately, Australia’s brand has been damaged due to the Covid lockdowns from the past two years, and we’re struggling to complete globally for foreign workers, who no longer see us as an attractive option to live and work.
“Women are another key focus area – they are the backbone of the retail industry, making up more than half of our workforce, however they’re significantly impacted by the limited options for childcare support. We need to see an increased focus in this area to increase women’s workforce participation.
“Having a baby opens up a 55% pay gap for Australian female workers compared to their male colleagues in the first five years after childbirth. This disparity is much higher when compared to the US and UK, highlighting the long road ahead for gender equality in this country.
“It’s important the Jobs and Skills Summit isn’t just another government talkfest. We need to see measures that will deliver improved social and economic outcomes, to not only address the short-term challenges, but the long-term ones as well to deliver economic prosperity.”