Business lobby calls to open temporary skilled migration to all jobs earning more than $90,000 | Australian politics

Napoleon Elizer

Big business has called to open temporary skilled migration to all jobs earning more than $90,000, but stopped short of endorsing union calls to make that the minimum wage for foreign workers.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has also called for a two-year boost to the annual migration intake to 220,000 a year in a submission ahead of next week’s jobs and skills summit.

Although the call by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) for multi-employer bargaining has proved contentious, consensus is emerging on the need to increase migration and to replace onerous skills lists and labour market testing with quicker ways to bring workers from overseas.

The BCA is calling for a two-year “catchup” for migration after Australia’s Covid border closure, boosting migration by 60,000 places for two years, with two-thirds of positions reserved for skilled workers.

From 2025 the permanent intake could fall back to 190,000, in line with pre-pandemic planning, it said.

The BCA suggested temporary skilled visas should be available for any jobs that pay above $90,000, with a $100,000 threshold for permanent migrants. Jobs below that threshold could still be eligible for work visas, but would be subject to skills lists.

It also called for labour-market testing to be refined, with higher compliance in regions or occupations at risk of abuse, but with “trusted” employers able to skip the requirement if they have a record of hiring and training locally.

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The ACTU has conditionally agreed to an increase in 40,000 migrants a year to 200,000 but it wants this to come hand-in-hand with wages increases, including lifting the pay floor for temporary skilled migrants from $53,000 to $91,000.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said this would “kill many areas of the immigration program overnight” but an increase to $60,000 would be “more realistic”.

Labor has signalled it is open to the unions’ call for pay deals to cover more than one employer, but may soon be outflanked on the left by the Greens, who want a more direct role for government in wage setting.

Adam Bandt, the leader of the minor party, has signalled it would seek to amend any legislation coming out of the summit so as to include an immediate pay rise for minimum wage workers and those in female-dominated industries.

Bandt, who has accepted an invitation to the summit and will appear with the party’s employment spokesperson, Barbara Pocock, said the Greens wanted to see a “greater role for government in setting wages across the board” through the Fair Work Act, especially women-dominated industries.

He said his party would make moves to that effect in the Senate, where Labor cannot pass legislation without either the support of the Greens orthe Coalition – warning the minor party would not be a “rubber stamp” for the government.

The Greens are seeking several Fair Work Act amendments: one to set the minimum wage at 60% of the median adult wage, or $23.76 an hour; and even faster increases to minimum wages in industries dominated by women, like the care sector, to lock in annual wage rises to at least 0.5% above the inflation rate.

“Government must lift wages now – not in three years, not when there have been skills reforms, but now,” Bandt said.

“If and when any proposals from the jobs summit hit the Senate, the Greens will push to change the law to guarantee wage rises.”

Pocock noted the stage three tax cuts, due to come into effect in 2024 and which the Greens want abolished, would disproportionately benefit men as higher-income earners, flagging this as a factor in their push for better pay in women-dominated industries.

“We need pay increases in the fast-expanding care and services economy. We need targeted access for women to the expanding skilled jobs sector as the energy transition unfolds across Australia,” she said.

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Business lobby calls to open temporary skilled migration to all jobs earning more than ,000 | Australian politics

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The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said services and the care economy, which he said were “largely female-dominated” industries, would be the focus of discussion at the jobs summit.

“Australia’s economy is changing and we need to change with it. That means recognising the contribution of care workers and the services sector to our economy, rewarding that contribution and reshaping our economy to reflect their role in our future growth,” he said on Friday.

Chalmers released Treasury analysis showing “a trend towards a services-oriented economy” in recent years, which had changed the composition of the labour market and seen service-related industries “dominating” employment growth.

The statistics showed mining accounted for 14.4% of Australia’s total gross output, the largest share, but just 2.2% of employment.

In contrast, services grew from about 67% of employment in 1986 to 80% in 2022. Chalmers noted services made up an even higher percentage of GDP in the UK and the US, saying Australia had “room to grow”.

This story was amended on 27 August 2022. The Business Council of Australia has said that temporary skilled visas should be available for any jobs that pay above $90,000, but has not called for the the pay floor for these workers to be raised to $90,000 as an earlier version said.

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