Migration, bargaining, and job security on AWU’s table at Jobs and Skills Summit

The Australian Workers’ Union will be representing its members at this week’s Jobs and Skills Summit, convened by the Federal Government, with migration, skills, and labour hire among the main items for debate.

The summit, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers, brings together more than 140 political leaders, union leaders, business heads, and key community groups to discuss a raft of issues confronting working people and the Australian economy and to drive ambitious reform.

The AWU has put the issue of migration at the front of the current skills shortage, calling for a compact between employers and unions that would allow the hiring of migrants to address the skills shortage, but only if employers agree to significantly contribute to the training of an Australian for a similar position, to actually address the shortage in the long term rather than simply filling gaps.

The AWU is also concerned that Australian skills have been hollowed out over recent decades, with apprenticeship rates plummeting and the TAFE system struggling for funding.

“Employers have effectively been allowed to de-skill the nation by successfully lobbying conservative governments to remove their traditional obligation to train Australians,” AWU National Secretary Dan Walton said.

“They then turn to short-term migration to fill roles, which exacerbates the problem. It’s human-centipede policy.

“The AWU recognises that migration, including some short-term migration, is economically necessary in the immediate term.

“But we believe employers in Australia have an obligation to help Australians fill the roles they are creating.”

The AWU is also calling for all new migrants to be joined to their relevant union by default, which will mitigate the widespread exploitation and wage theft of these workers.

“If we want to fix a culture where migrant workers get ripped off and undermine our employment system then union membership is the best and most efficient weapon we have.”

Other issues the AWU will raise include the “same work, same pay” concept, which will effectively arrest the current practice of labour hire and contracting firms continually underbidding each other for work, which erodes the terms and conditions of employment not just for these workers, but for the sector in which they work.

Mr Walton welcomed the PM’s commitment to legislate it.

“We have always believed in the fundamental principle that workers doing the same work, on the same site, get paid the same rate,” he said.

“The AWU has been advocating for decades for the principle to be enshrined in law and welcomes the undertaking from the new Government.

“If the Government is genuine about its desire to promote wage growth, the number one tactic used by employers to reduce wages and damage employment conditions must be cut off.”

The AWU will also argue at the summit for a fairer bargaining system that allows members across a sector to engage collectively and fight for better outcomes.

“The bargaining system has not been updated to reflect changes in Australian workplaces and is no longer delivering the wage growth working people need,” Mr Walton said.

“We need a new bargaining system that is simple, fair and accessible for all.

“We need more options for collective bargaining, including multi-employer or sector bargaining, which would allow multiple workplaces to make an agreement together.

“This would improve access to better pay and conditions for large sections of the workforce, for which bargaining is effectively currently unavailable.”

The AWU will also outline its recent reports on clean steel and hydrogen, both of which are essential to the future of Australia’s manufacturing sector, providing skilled, well-paying jobs for Australians for generations to come.

The AWU recently partnered with the John Curtin Research Centre to prepare a report, Clean and Mean: New Directions for Australia’s Steel Industry, which makes the case for Australia becoming a clean-steel leader in Asia and globally.

“Almost 140,000 Australians work making steel products, and the recent AWU National Conference resoundingly agreed that they can’t just be thrown on the scrapheap,” Mr Walton said.

The AWU has also thrown its weight behind Australia’s burgeoning hydrogen industry with the release of a new McKell Institute report, which says Australia has an opportunity to be a global hydrogen powerhouse – but only if we act quickly.

“It is essential for the nation to seize the chance to base much of the international hydrogen supply chain here, and in the process create thousands of skilled jobs.

“An export industry will require substantial new plant, equipment, infrastructure and skilled workers.

“AWU members already have enormous experience of dealing with oil and gas extraction, pipelines, and fuel refining, and as a result will be at the heart of this hydrogen revolution.”

The AWU will use this opportunity to advocate for its members and future generations of Australian working people, and looks forward to changes to the industrial relations landscape that improve the working lives of all Australians.

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