Thursday, April 25, 2024

Jobs and Skills Summit presents immediate action items needed to address staff shortages

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra says the immediate action items announced at the Jobs and Skills Summit today, including an increase to Australia’s migration cap, and a one-off income credit for age pensioners, are important ‘quick wins’ needed to address the tipping point on staff shortages.

“The Jobs and Skills Summit was one of the most significant policy gatherings we’ve ever seen, and while we need to see more on the government’s commitment to long-lasting reform, the spirit of goodwill in the room and a shared objective to improve employment outcomes and accelerate economic growth is a powerful step forward,” Mr Zahra said.

“Not every problem can be solved in two days, but it’s important to see the government back some quick wins to relieve the intense pressure on workforces around Australia.

“The ARA has been advocating for an increase to Australia’s migration cap for months and we’re pleased to see this confirmed today by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil. Industries like retail are reliant on people from overseas to supplement their skilled workforce in key areas such as digital and are acutely feeling their absence at the moment.

“Reducing red tape around immigration was another pre-summit callout from the ARA and we welcome the additional funding that’s been confirmed to speed up visa processing times. We’re in a global race for talent and we need to ensure Australia is an attractive destination to work and visit,” he said.

“Older Australians can play an important role in addressing the current staffing challenge, and we’re pleased to see a one-off income credit announced. This will allow age pensioners to earn an additional $4,000 over this financial year without losing any of their entitlements. This is a win all round – it allows pensioners to supplement their income, work extra hours if they wish, and help businesses plug some of the gaps in their workforce.

“We’re also pleased to see the government commit to closing the gap in disability employment, ensuring there is access to meaningful and sustained work,” Mr Zahra said.

“The national discussion on improving women’s workforce participation was long overdue, and we’re pleased to see this receive the attention it deserved at the summit. Access to affordable and flexible childcare is the biggest barrier preventing parents from returning to work in a greater capacity. Australia has the second highest childcare costs in the world – it’s simply unaffordable for many working women and parents, who are turning down employment opportunities to care for their children. We look forward to the Government’s formal response in this area.

“We came to the summit with an open mind around industrial relations reform, and we acknowledge Minister Tony Burke and his commitment to improve the Better Off Overall Test and enterprise bargaining. As always with industrial relations, the devil is in the detail, and ongoing discussions will be needed to ensure we achieve a balanced outcome.

“The discussion around tech jobs and innovation and the importance of prioritising skills and training in this space is fundamental to our growth as a sector. The most pressing skills shortages for retail, and many other industries, are in data and digital roles and we can’t be solely reliant on migrants to fill these positions. We need focus on upskilling and training the existing talent we have here now,” Mr Zahra said.

The ARA’s submission to the Jobs and Skills Summit can be viewed here.

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