Austerity Threatens Women's Access to Paid Work

Women have suffered the worst labour market impacts since the shutdowns. Gender-unequal impacts have been due to women's greater exposure to customer-facing industries shut down first by public health orders, higher employment intensity in insecure and part-time positions, and an increased caring burden unmet by the state. But instead of providing countervailing support, the federal government is accelerating women’s work crisis.

In this commentary, originally published in the New Daily, Senior Economist at the Centre for Future Work Alison Pennington outlines how government's austerity agenda has intensified the unequal jobs fallout and threatens to "turn back the clock" for women's economic security.

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Repairing Universities & Skills Key to Meeting COVID-Era Challenges

Training must play a vital role in reorienting the economy after the pandemic, supporting workers training for new jobs including millions of young people entering a depressed labour market without concrete pathways to work. But what kind of jobs will we be doing in 2040? And how prepared is Australia's skills system (and universities specifically) to play this important role now? 

Our Senior Economist Alison Pennington was interviewed by UTS The Social Contract podcast on how COVID-19 is reshaping relations between universities, government and industry. 

Alison explains how the pandemic economic crisis presents significant challenges to Australia's fragmented, underfunded and unplanned skills system wounded from decades of failed marketisation policies, and why sustained public investments in skills and jobs pathways will be essential to solving our economic and social challenges. 

You can listen to the episode HERE. She is joined by Megan Lilly, head of Workforce Development at the Australian Industry Group. 


Unleashing a National Reconstruction Plan Fit for Our Era

Our nation is confronting the most significant economic challenge in nearly a century. Australia's own experience of long-term, sustained public investment during post-war reconstruction shows direct tools of government planning and investment will be essential to our recovery today. Yet Scott Morrison continues to pretend his hands are tied: "if there's no business, there's no jobs, there's no income, there's nothing."

In this commentary originally published in the Newcastle HeraldCentre for Future Work Senior Economist Alison Pennington explains why Australia needs a public spending program proportionate to the nature, speed and depth of this crisis, and outlines some priorities for a public-led post-COVID-19 reconstruction plan.

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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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