Anthony Albanese has promised to open a “conversation” about new ways of protecting workers in insecure employment, and committed to a root and branch overhaul of the “broken” vocational education system.
In his speech on jobs and the future of work, delivered in Perth on Tuesday, Albanese declared today’s new employment arrangements – such as the gig economy - were straining the present industrial relations system.
With job insecurity on the rise and widespread casual employment, many people had unpredictable income and hours and few protections. They were unable to plan ahead, including financially.
“These Australians deserve a greater sense of security”, he said.
While one option was to look at the barriers to businesses offering full-time jobs, for many employers and workers non-standard arrangements suited.
“Today we have close to 1.5 million secondary jobs, some with a median income of up to $9500 depending on the industry,” he said. Some 40% of Uber drivers had a separate full-time job, or a business. For many of them Uber driving gave flexibility.
“It is time to have a conversation about new forms of worker protections, which can be made as flexible as the gig economy jobs they could cover, as well as benefit more traditional industries,” Albanese said
He floated the idea of portable entitlements - allowing a worker to carry entitlements over from one job to the next.
Labor’s shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke would lead this “conversation” about protections.
In this first of a series of “vision statements” Albanese has sought to send the messages that Labor under his leadership is focused on jobs, is looking to the future and is not afraid of change.
The speech - which also cast a decarbonising economy as the generator of new jobs and a booming manufacturing industry - concentrated on repositioning Labor, not providing detailed policy.
Albanese emphasised the centrality of growth, and outlined a framework for tackling the problem of the mismatch in the labour market.
He pointed to a gulf between what employers needed and what workers had to offer, and described the vocational education and training system (VET) – already much overhauled by governments - as in crisis.
“We must commence a national project to repair our VET system,” he said.
Numbers working towards an apprenticeship had fallen, with 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when the Coalition government came in.
In government, he would seek a “circuit breaker”, with a new body along the lines of Infrastructure Australia, which he set up when a minister.
“Labor in government will establish a new national partnership to drive improved outcomes in the vocational education and training sector and to strengthen workforce planning, particularly in the growing sectors of our economy: Jobs and Skills Australia.”
This body “will be a genuine partnership across all sectors – business leaders, both large and small; state and territory governments; unions; education providers; and those who understand particular regions”.
Its functions would include
workforce and skills analysis
preparing capacity studies, including for emerging and growing industries
undertaking specific plans for targeted cohorts such as the regions, over-55 workers, and youth
reviewing the adequacy of the training and vocational system.
Its legislation would also require it to forecast workforce and skills needs for services government funded, and where demand was growing – specifically the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), aged care and health.
“This specific function will ensure that proper co-ordination occurs across all our human services investments and that the risk to service delivery or cost is reduced.”
Albanese said the jobs landscape a decade from now was uncertain.
“We can watch the tidal wave of change coming, then be swept away by it.
"Or we can protect our citizens by giving them a fair shot at a prosperous future,” he said.
“Government must understand the landscape and the forces that drive change. It must be proactive, not reactive.”
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra