Will the Jobs and Skills Summit be a political skirmish hidden in consensus discussions?

Anthony Albanese talked about boosting productivity to stimulate nominal wage growth that isn’t just eaten away by price inflation. But he hasn’t backed that discussion with any real political substance, such as simply calling for the restoration of Paul Keating’s corporate bargaining system, designed to deliver win-win deals in better-paying, higher-paying workplaces. efficient.

Before the summit even began, Mr Albanese told the National Press Club on Monday that he was not expecting everyone to agree on everything and promised to legislate to approve the model bargaining agreement that the unions seek to strengthen their institutionalized power. While Mr Albanese comes from the social activist Whitlamite wing of the party, he appears set to endorse the ACTU’s demand for sectoral bargaining – not included in Labour’s electoral mandate – as political insurance against the fact of to be undermined, like Kevin Rudd, by the “faceless” union bosses. .

But why is the top small business body tying with the ACTU and joining the industrial relations club? ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and COSBOA Chief Executive Alexi Boyd suggest joining union-brokered sectoral agreements will offer small businesses a more flexible alternative to inflexible industry rewards fraught with the complexities of “salary theft” type.

Highly prescriptive rewards are a keystone of Australia’s rigid workplace framework, which grants enormous institutional power to the union via the legal monopoly right to represent workers in allocation and bargaining negotiations. Giving small businesses relief from onerous rewards should be a good thing, though it’s hard to see why they need CUTA approval to do so, or how it squares with hulking work arrangements hit by those who have no skin in the real business.

As Wesfarmers Managing Director Rob Scott said last week: “We need to work with our team to find new ways to work more efficiently. And this flexibility that we need can only really be unlocked through company-specific corporate agreements. »

The COSBOA-ACTU agreement recalls that the origins of Australia’s industrial relations system include a preference for smaller firms to regulate undercutting by new entrants – in other words, competition. Today, Deputy Treasurer and Economist Andrew Leigh argues that a lack of new business creation and declining market dynamism – or competition – are to blame for Australia’s slowing productivity. Extending the influence of unions to small businesses and imposing uniform wage negotiations on disparate companies can only make the situation worse.

It has yet to play out, but this jobs summit appears to be heading towards returning Australia’s outdated industrial relations system to its early 20th century class conflict origins, rather than using the pandemic to redesign a modern work environment based on cooperation, mutual benefit and teamwork to help make a bigger cake to share for all.

In an open economy, in which national prosperity depends on businesses competing effectively in the global marketplace, continuing to cripple wealth-producing businesses with outdated workplace rules and restrictions boggles the mind.

As global uncertainty looms over the end of the fight against inflation, will the first such government-sanctioned summit in 40 years really do nothing to fix America’s great act of economic self-harm? Australia on Industrial Relations?

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