Keeping Skills In Hard Times
Australia needs to adopt clever solutions in dealing with the economic slowdown and adopt alternatives to redundancies to avoid throwing away the considerable investment in skills and training.
This is the basic premise of the report ‘Keeping Skills During Hard Times’. It recommends establishing a Skills Development Fund that would enable employers to retain their employees during the economic slowdown while they undertake training.
With an estimated 200,000 Australians likely to lose their jobs over the next two years, the report’s author, international labour market analyst, Toni Wren, says it is vital that governments and industry work cooperatively to come up with alternatives to layoffs.
This report states that the focus of government policy needs to remain on building skills in the workforce and implementing structures that will cushion the impact of the slowdown on workers, including alternatives to forced redundancies.
The Skills Development Fund, jointly financed by government and industry, would be a dedicated resource to help boost skills development in key industries. A part of the Fund would be earmarked to re-skill workers in green collar jobs needed for the transition to a new low-carbon economy.
This report notes that there are already possible alternatives to redundancy that should be canvassed including reduced overtime, shorter working hours, job sharing, reduced reliance on casuals, requiring employees to take outstanding annual leave and taking unpaid leave, as well as firms themselves addressing performance issues.
The report recommends a series of additional measures to address the plight of those made redundant including:
- Early access to case management and training for retrenched workers who are at risk of long-term unemployment
- Reviewing the National Employment Standard (NES) which offers a minimum protection for all workers but excludes some 1.7 million private sector employees
- Reviewing the scheme that provides income support to workers whose employer becomes insolvent yet excludes some small business and casual employees.
- Providing relief to those on unemployment benefits in the private rental market.
- Abolishing liquid assets test waiting periods for unemployed people to prevent them sliding into poverty and homelessness.
The report calls for employers to be more involved in the design and delivery of training (a demand-led rather than supply-driven approach) and says that the distinction between welfare-to-work and in-work training should be scrapped.
It calls for the Productivity Commission to undertake an extensive inquiry into Australia’s redundancy arrangements and recommends the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) set up an Office of Labour Market Adjustment to pool knowledge and best practice.
- Toni Wren