Australia Needs Universal Paid Sick Leave To Get Through the Pandemic

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy recently issued a directive that going to work with the ‘sniffles’ is ‘off the agenda for every Australian in the foreseeable future.’ But with millions of workers without access to paid sick leave, government plans to lift restrictions on economic activity could risk dangerous and costly outbreaks. 

In this commentary, which originally appeared in 10 Daily, Centre for Future Work Senior Economist Alison Pennington discusses the consequences of low paid sick leave coverage for worker safety and public health efforts during the pandemic, and reviews the merits of a universal paid sick leave scheme to address both COVID-19 and precarious work.

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Renewable Energy Could Power Australian Manufacturing Renaissance

With disruptions in international supply chains for essential products (like medical equipment and supplies) disrupted in the current COVID pandemic, Australians have a new appreciation for the importance of retaining a flexible, high-quality, domestic manufacturing capacity. And the ongoing transformation of Australia's energy industry, with rapid expansion of renewable energy sources, would add momentum to the renaissance of Australian manufacturing.

That is the conclusion of a new study written by Dan Nahum, Economist at the Centre for Future Work.

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Log of Extraordinary IR Measures During COVID-19 Shutdowns

COVID-19 containment measures have suspended large sections of the economy. Governments have committed over $220 billion in income supports to workers and firms. The $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme is the most extensive “shock absorber” (with worrying exclusions of many casual and migrant workers). With the scheme now in place, assessment of the government’s COVID-19 measures is now shifting to implementation. This includes effects on the laws and regulations governing wages and how businesses and employees (and their unions) interact to determine the terms and conditions of employment.

Despite enduring a heightened anti-union agenda, unions (headed up by ACTU) liaised early with government to secure the JobKeeper wage subsidy to prevent mass layoffs. Unions have negotiated with industry to adapt Awards and enterprise agreements (EAs) to new business conditions. The Coalition government has proceeded with significant changes to the Fair Work Act that could hamper efforts to drive an inclusive economic and labour market recovery. What's more, the Morrison government has indicated it will continue its pre-COVID agenda to further weaken representation rights and minimum labour laws.

To inform assessment of the impacts of COVID-19 on jobs, wages, and workplace protections, we have summarised major developments within the industrial relations system since March 2020. The log traces revisions to Awards, enterprise agreement-making rules, new instruments formed between unions and industry, major decisions by the Fair Work Commission, and ongoing lobbying efforts by business to weaken minimum labour laws. Links to relevant research from Centre for Future Work released during the crisis, or prior to, are provided. All log entries are reported in the industrial relations publication Workplace Express. Links to other media outlets are provided where relevant. 

If there are any major IR developments that we have not reported here please get in touch at futurework@tai.org.au.

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Pandemic Shows Australia Needs Domestic Manufacturing

Disruptions in global supplies of essential medical equipment have served as a wake-up call to Australians that it is always vital for a country to retain the capacity to domestically produce manufactured products that may be crucial to national security and well-being.

In this commentary, Centre for Future Work Economist Dan Nahum reviews the qualitative reasons why manufacturing retains a special strategic importance to the overall economy, and discusses the potential synergies between the development of sustainable energy resources and a revitalisation of manufacturing.

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Public Sector Pay Freezes Could Push Economy From Recession to Depression

New research from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work reveals the consequences of freezing public service pay, both for public sector workers and for the broader economy.

Governments are devoting unprecedented resources to protecting Australians against the health and economic effects of the pandemic, but a contradictory push to adopt fiscal austerity measures is also becoming apparent. Leaders of governments at all levels -- federal, state and local council -- have already announced plans to freeze wages and cancel previously agreed pay raises for public servants.

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Working from Home in a Pandemic: Opportunities and Risks

With many regular workplaces shut down to 'flatten the curve' of COVID-19, millions of Australians are now shifting their work to home. Home work has great potential to cushion the economic blow of the pandemic: allowing many to keep working and earning an income, and many firms and industries to continue at least partial production. But there are also many challenges and risks associated with this major shift in work patterns. Much of the increase in home work will likely become permanent, even after the immediate health emergency passes. That makes it crucial to 'get home work right': providing home workers with appropriate support and protections, and preventing abuse and exploitation as home work becomes more common.

This new Briefing Paper from the Centre for Future Work, written by Alison Pennington and Jim Stanford, surveys the scope of home work, considers its impacts on economic and gender inequality, and proposes several policy recommendations to make home work safer and fairer.

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Australians Want JobKeeper Program Extended to Include All Who Need It

The Commonwealth government's proposed JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme represents an important and promising response to the COVID-19 shutdown of several key sectors of Australia's economy. The scheme would support an estimated $130 billion worth of wage payments over the coming 6 months, keeping millions of Australians in jobs even if their employers experience major revenue losses from the restrictions that have been imposed on activity, mobility, and work during the pandemic.

However, the program as originally proposed contains several design flaws that will seriously undermine the effectiveness of the program if they are not fixed.

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Webinar: Protecting Jobs and Incomes During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is producing an unprecedented shutdown of large parts of the national and global economies. Our Director Dr. Jim Stanford provided an overview of the coming recession, how it differs from previous downturns, and the best ways for government to respond to protect Australians as much as possible from the economic fall-out.

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Open Letter From Economists and Policy Experts: Wage Subsidy to Protect Jobs During Pandemic

109 Australian economists and policy experts have signed an open letter, initiated by the Centre for Future Work, supporting a government wage subsidy to prevent mass unemployment during the coming economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter and the full list of signatories is reprinted below. It has been forwarded to Prime Minister Morrison.

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Minimum Wage Awards Playing a Larger Role

The Centre for Future Work has made a submission to the 2020 annual wage review conducted by the Fair Work Commission. The submission compiles evidence showing that the annual minimum wage adjustments (which flow through into wages specified in the Modern Awards, as well as some enterprise agreements and individual contracts) have played a more important role in recent years in supporting the overall level of wage growth in Australia's labour market. Without relatively strong minimum wage increases since 2017 (of 3% or higher for three consecutive years), Australian wage growth would still be languishing at all-time record lows of under 2% per year.

In this context, the Centre argued it is vital the Commission proceed with a normal, healthy minimum wage increase for 1 July, 2020, with full flow-through into Award wages. Otherwise wage growth will slump significantly (to an estimated 0.7%, or even lower), heightening the risk of economy-wide deflation.

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