Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Retailers outline priorities for Jobs and Skills Summit

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has put forward its submission to the Jobs and Skills Summit, which focuses on initiatives to address immediate labour and skills shortages, drive sustainable wages growth and provide more secure work by improving workplace flexibility.

The ARA submission makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Mobilising more mature age workers, doubling the amount pensioners can earn before their pension payments are affected
  • Improving the affordability and flexibility of childcare
  • Increasing investment in retail traineeships to future-proof the sector, provide more employment opportunities and position retail as a career
  • Pursuing greater flexibility in part-time work arrangements
  • Seeking national consistency around workforce participation for teenagers
  • Increasing the skilled migration intake, with a focus on hard-to-fill retail roles.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra will represent the retail industry and present at the Canberra Summit on creating safe, fair and productive workplaces.

Mr Zahra looks forward to meeting with government representatives, other industry groups and unions to achieve tangible outcomes to Australia’s jobs and skills crisis.

“It’s critical we don’t waste this opportunity and commit ourselves to bold reforms that will accelerate Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery,” Mr Zahra said.

“There are some items on the summit agenda that should be quick-wins – such as the increase to Australia’s skilled migration intake. The Government has talked about increasing the cap from 160,000 to potentially 200,000 – a move that has widespread support in the retail industry.

“This must be balanced with the upskilling and training of our existing talent. Despite being our largest private sector employer and key to Australia’s economic prosperity, retail is often overlooked in government programs around skills, training and traineeships. While there’s an urgent need to fill gaps in the labour market for frontline roles, we also need to prioritise expanding the pool of skilled labour to manage through the ongoing state of disruption,” he said.

“Older Australians can play an important role in addressing the staffing challenge, but they are currently limited in the amount they can earn before their pension payments are impacted. Doubling that amount would be a win all round – providing pensioners with the opportunity to supplement their income if they wish, businesses with access to a willing and capable workforce and creating a more empowered pension group that will be mobilised to work and spend.

“At the other end of the spectrum, there is capacity to align frameworks around employing teenage workers in first time retail jobs. With national disparity around the legal working age for students, this is another opportunity to create clarity and consistency for students who would like to work limited hours on weekends, holidays and evenings without interfering with their education,” he said.

“Other areas of reform require greater deliberation. Our industrial relations system remains an untamed beast that throws up unwelcome challenges to greater workforce participation. We welcome the opportunity to address simplifying the award system and bargaining processes to increase flexibility for both the employer and employee.

“For our sector, productivity doesn’t require big structural reform. It’s simply a function of providing greater flexibility in part-time work arrangements that allow businesses to flex-up hours to meet consumer demand or the ability for an employee to work more than one shift per day, providing employees greater choice and access to more work,” he said.

“Improving women’s workforce participation is also a critical agenda item at the summit. This is a long overdue shift that can unlock short and long-term outcomes and is fundamental to our sector which employs over 700,000 women. 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. Solving childcare in this country isn’t just a social issue – it’s an economic reform that would unleash the potential of return-to-work parents.

“It’s also important that small businesses in particular have the skills and knowledge they need to keep up with the rapid rate of innovation and new and emerging consumer trends. We welcome the government’s commitment in this area, with legislation to be introduced later this year for tax incentives worth more than $1.5 billion.

“Whilst summits can often be seen as glorified talkfests, we’re encouraged at the level of engagement from the Albanese Government, and in particular Treasurer Jim Chalmers, to the concerns of retailers both large and small,” Mr Zahra said.

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

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