Big business wants a “catch up boost” to permanent migration, with at least two thirds of the places going to skilled workers,
In proposals for next month’s jobs and skills summit, the Business Council of Australia’s chief executive Jennifer Westacott has also stressed the need to immediately address “the backlog of visa approvals across all categories because we simply don’t have enough people to do things”.
Migration, labour market reform, and skills shortages will be central issues at the summit. After a weekend report the government wanted to increase the migrant intake to between 180,000 and 200,000, Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor told reporters the government had not yet settled on a number.
Under the Morrison government the 2022-23 migration program planning level was 160,000, 109,900 of them in the skilled stream.
Immigration is always a sensitive debate, both in terms of numbers, and the balance between importing skills and training locals.
Westacott said: “We need to move from a short-term, ad hoc system to long-term planned migration with a focus on four year visas, pathways to permanent migration, and future planning of our population growth so we get the housing, transport and health services right”.
On workplace relations, she said the summit must agree on the need “to restore the role of collective bargaining as the centrepiece” of the system “because it delivers better outcomes for both workers and employers”.
It had to “be accessible to different types of employers. It also has to be vastly simpler and easier to navigate”.
“It is by reviving the ability for enterprise agreements to be genuine substitutes for awards that we once again attract innovation and investment to drive growth in productivity and real wages.
“To succeed, we need to remove the red tape and blockages that prevent businesses, unions and workers from negotiating new agreements in a simple and effective way that is easy to use.”
Westacott said, in relation to improving skills, the tertiary education system needed redesigning “so it looks and feels different for learners and employers. It needs to be more interoperable between VET and higher education and centred around learners and their employers.”
Last week the ACTU released the first of its papers ahead of the summit, in which it called for regulation of labour markets “so that real wages rise in tandem with labour productivity”.
It also urged an excess profits levy on companies that had windfall profits as a result of the present inflation, and a cancellation of the legislated stage three tax cuts “which only benefit higher-income households and will exacerbate inflationary pressures”.
The government has ruled out a super profits tax and reneging on the tax cuts, and Treasurer Jim Chalmers quickly distanced himself from these calls from the unions.
The summit has seen the federal opposition at sixes and sevens, with opposition leader Peter Dutton refusing an invitation to attend but Nationals leader David Littleproud saying he is anxious to go to represent regional communities.
Chalmers will release a discussion paper for the summit this week.