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Forty years after wages accord, government says ‘everything on table’ at jobs summit

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has called for an overhaul to the enterprise bargaining system ahead of the government’s jobs and skills summit.

Aug 25, 2022, updated Aug 25, 2022
Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating established the original prices and incomes accord in 1983. (File image)

Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating established the original prices and incomes accord in 1983. (File image)

As the program for next week’s two-day summit was revealed, with skills shortages, sluggish wage growth and maintaining low unemployment on the agenda, Marles said it was critical there was also a boost to productivity.

It was worth noting “employers concede that there are real issues with the enterprise bargaining system”, he told the Nine Network on Thursday.

“We do need to be thinking about how we can reform the enterprise bargaining system in a way that gets productivity growing,” he said.

Australia’s migration program will also feature prominently on the summit’s agenda, with the possibility of raising the cap for skilled migrants and visa processing backlogs surfacing as key issues in the lead up to the event.

Growing wages “sustainably” will also be discussed. This follows subdued wage figures for the last quarter that showed Australian pay packets falling well behind the rising cost of living.

Discussions are also set to cover the job-creating potential of the energy transition and outline the mega-trends shaping the jobs of the future.

Marles said he was confident of a compromise between unions and businesses.

“Part of that is about bringing Australia around a table so that we can actually have a conversation,” he said.

“We’ve not really had that over the last decade, that’s why everyone is really looking forward to next week.”

The summit will feature keynote addresses from Grattan Institute head Danielle Wood, and economist and climate expert Ross Garnaut.

The government claims to have spoken to “hundreds if not thousands” of people at summits and roundtables ahead of the event.

The summit – a Labor election promise – aims to address Australia’s economic challenges and will bring together about 100 representatives from the business, union and community sectors.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will not attend, but Nationals leader David Littleproud plans to sit in to ensure rural and regional interests are represented.

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley says the Labor government is “not a friend” of business.

“Their instincts are to always back what the unions want first,” Ley said in a speech to business leaders on Tuesday.

Marles said the previous coalition government had been responsible for the economic conditions Labor had been left with in office.

“We need to be talking about how we get wages going again in this country. That has been really part of what’s defined the last decade under the former government,” he said.

“We have had record low wage growth but what underpins that has been insipid productivity growth.”

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