Economy Heads Into Election on a Weak Note

The ABS has released what is likely the last quarterly GDP report before a Commonwealth election expected in May. Coalition leaders were hoping a strong report would underline their standard talking points about being the best “economic managers.”  But they were badly disappointed.

The headline number was bad: Just a 0.18% increase in GDP for the December quarter, barely above zero. But the details, if anything, were worse.

Our Director Jim Stanford parses the numbers in this briefing note.

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Submission to Victoria Inquiry into On-Demand Work

What's a 'gig' job, anyway? There's lots of media hype about how people won't have jobs in the future (they're so old-fashioned). Instead they'll work a never-ending series of gigs. Will they love the supposed 'freedom' and 'flexibility'? Or will they yearn for the good old days when a job provided regular hours ... and a regular paycheque?

The government of Victoria is holding an important inquiry into the conditions and challenges of working in the 'on-demand' economy: a polite euphemism for gigs. The Centre for Future Work has made a submission.

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What's a Million, Anyway?

In the lead-up to the 2013 federal election, then-Opposition Leader Tony Abbott made a high-profile pledge that a Coalition government, if elected, would create 1 million new jobs over the next five years. Abbott was elected (although later ousted by his own party), and total employment in Australia did indeed grow by over 1 million positions between 2013 and 2018.  Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison hopes that this success can resuscitate his party's flagging fortunes: he has pledged, if elected, to create even more jobs (1.25 million) over the next five years.

But a new report from the Centre for Future Work takes a closer look at the government's claims, and finds that Australia's job-creation record since 2013 has actually been unimpressive.

Australia's working age population is over 20 million, and growing rapidly.  The labour market must create well over 1 million new jobs every five years, just to keep up with population growth.  Moreover, it was only due to a surge in part-time jobs (most of them casual, low-wage positions) that Mr. Abbott's million-job target was met.  If full-time work had retained its previous share of all work, the number of new jobs would have fallen well below the 1 million benchmark.

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On the Brink: The Crisis in Private Sector Collective Bargaining

Australia’s enterprise bargaining system is crumbling rapidly in private sector workplaces, according to dramatic findings from the Centre for Future Work.

The report shows that the number of current enterprise agreements in private Australian businesses has collapsed by 46% since the end of 2013.  The number of private sector workers covered by enterprise agreements has plunged 34% in the same time. In 2017, just 12% of employed private sector workers were covered by an enterprise agreement – down from 19% in 2013.

If current trends in renewals, new agreements, and terminations continue, less than 1700 agreements would survive to 2030, at which point just 2% of private sector workers would be covered by a collective agreement.

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Private Sector Wage Growth Still in Doldrums

New data on private-sector business conditions confirm that wage increases paid in the private sector of Australia’s economy continue to plumb record lows.

The ABS’s quarterly Business Indicators report, released yesterday, indicates total wages and salaries paid out by private businesses grew 4.3 percent in the September quarter, compared to year-earlier levels. This only slightly exceeded the increase in total private sector employment during the same period. As a result, wages and salaries paid per employed worker grew very slowly – by just 0.43 percent over the year.

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New Book: The Wages Crisis in Australia

 

The Wages Crisis in Australia:

What it is and what to do about itCover

Edited by Andrew Stewart, Jim Stanford, and Tess Hardy (University of Adelaide Press)

Australian wage growth has decelerated in recent years to the slowest sustained pace since the 1930s. Nominal wages have grown very slowly since 2012; average real wages (after adjusting for inflation) have not grown at all. The resulting slowdown in personal incomes has contributed to weak consumer spending, more precarious household finances, and even larger government deficits.

The wage slowdown has elicited concern from economists and political leaders across the spectrum. Even Dr. Philip Lowe, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, has called it a "crisis," and suggested that faster wage growth would be beneficial for the economy.

This new collection of 20 essays by leading labour market experts and commentators in Australia explores the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to this problem.  The book is published by University of Adelaide Press. The book was launched in Melbourne on 29 November, with remarks from Natalie James, former Commonwealth Fair Work Ombudsman and Chair of the Victorian Inquiry Into the On-Demand Workforce.

Through the links below you may access excerpts from the book, links to participating authors, and supplementary material (including commentary, other readings, and videos). Our hope is that this collection will spark a needed debate in Australia about how to get wages back on track.

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Go Home on Time Day 2018

Wednesday 21 November is Australia's official "Go Home On Time Day," sponsored by the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute. This represents the 10th year of our initiative, to provide light-hearted encouragement to Australian workers to actually leave their jobs when they are supposed to. Instead of working late once again - and allowing your employer to "steal" even more of your time, without even paying for it - why not leave the job promptly. Spend a full evening with your family or friends, visit the gym, see a movie - do anything other than work.

Please visit our special Go Home On Time Day website for more information, tips on how to get away from work on time, and free posters and shareables.  There's also an online calculator where you can estimate the value of the time theft you experience, through unpaid overtime in all its forms.

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Sectoral Collective Agreement Could Combat Finance Industry Misconduct

The Royal Commission into the financial services industry has heard tens of thousands of incidents of financial misconduct. The problem is clearly not just a “few bad apples”; the problem is clearly rooted in the core structure and practice of this industry.

However, when it comes to fixing this mess, the Commission’s recent interim report provided no clear answers. Consumer education, self-regulation by banks, and even stronger enforcement efforts by government regulators all have their drawbacks. But there’s another solution that Commissioner Kenneth Hayne has so far overlooked: sector-wide collective bargaining to establish uniform, ethical pay practices across the financial industry.

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Exploring the Decline in the Labour Share of GDP

The share of total economic output in Australia that is paid to workers (in the form of wages, salaries, and superannuation contributions) has been declining for decades. Workers produce more real output with each hour of labour (thanks to ongoing efficiency improvements and productivity growth), but growth in real wages has been much slower - and recently, real wages haven't been growing at all. The result is that labour's slice of the economic pie has been getting smaller. In fact, a recent Centre for Future Work report showed that in early 2017 the labour share of GDP hit its lowest level since the Australian Bureau of Statistics began collecting quarterly GDP data.

To explore the causes and consequences of this decline in workers' share of national income, the Centre for Future Work convened a special panel of experts at the Society for Heterodox Economists conference at UNSW in Sydney last December. The papers presented at that panel have been peer-reviewed and just published in the Journal of Australian Political Economy. We are very pleased to co-publish the 4 papers here.

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Possibly Surprising Insights on the Future of Work

Trade unionists are gathering this week at the ACTU's triennial Congress in Brisbane.  Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, participated in a panel on the Future of Work (an apt title!) at the Congress.

Here is his presentation: 5 Possibly Surprising Insights on the Future of Work.

More detail on the issues raised in his presentation is provided in the Centre's recent submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Future of Work and the Future of Workers.



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