Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

Laura Jayes
Jobs and Skills Summit; wages; labour shortages.

Laura Jayes: Joining me live here at the desk is Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres. Tim, where to start with this? Is Labor going to acquiesce to these demands?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: Well Laura, I had the benefit of hearing your questions and not Michele [O’Neil’s] answers to that interview. What I can tell you is that I'm not going to pre-empt the outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit here on your show today. But there are going to be some strong inputs and we are looking for answers to some of these big questions over the future of jobs and skills arrangements. And the enterprise bargaining system is under real strain in Australia. Less and less people are covered by it.

Laura Jayes: The system that Labor designed?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Yeah, in the 1980s and the 1990s. We're now in 2022 and we have to consider what shape the bargaining system should have for the future. If our objective is to lift wages, to lift productivity and build more cooperative industrial relations, then we have to have an open mind for these sorts of proposals. We'll listen very carefully to what the trade union movement has to say about these questions, and we'll listen very carefully to business.

Laura Jayes: Well, let's use the example that's in your portfolio, manufacturing; small businesses. There's plenty of small businesses that manufacture. As you've pointed out, it's changed a lot in the last couple of years. We used to be talking about big, huge factories, technologies workforce is a bit smaller. What would be the benefit in having an EBA for a business with less than 20 employees?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well maybe if I can take you back to some of my experience in this sector. The first thing is that some of those big firms have been forced offshore by the last government. We have dropped down to 6 or 7 per cent of the economy in manufacturing in large part because the last government shovelled tens of thousands of jobs overseas. There is, I have to tell you, some real limits to what enterprise bargaining can achieve in its current state in the manufacturing sector.

Laura Jayes: But what about in small business?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Small firms, hundreds of thousands of workers shut out of collective bargaining outcomes. And as a consequence of that, wages are falling in that sector. The thing about collective bargaining is that what strong collective bargaining regimes lead to, all the international evidence shows this, more jobs, lower unemployment, higher productivity, higher wages, more cooperative industrial relations.

Laura Jayes: But we don't need those two things. We've got a worker shortage here. You think the system would sort that out. Again, where's the evidence that EBA's collective bargaining leads to greater productivity?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: So, all of the evidence collected by the OECD and all of the reputable economic evidence from overseas demonstrates that collective bargaining outcomes lead to higher productivity and higher wages. Now some of the questions that you're pointing to in terms of skill shortages, it's like the old song, "the answer ain't there" in terms of the bargaining system. It's going to be in how we deal with skills training and some of these questions about the migration system and we'll be working through all of those. This is a complex web of issues that we have to sort through as a country. And one of the things that this government has made it really clear we're going to do, we're not going to play the old divide in politics, the divide and sort of conquer politics.

Laura Jayes: Unions are doing that for you.

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, what the unions are doing is putting a set of propositions.

Laura Jayes: Well, they know how to really rile up the business community.

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, I think they've got you a bit riled up, Laura.

Laura Jayes: Well, I think it's an important debate. I think it's an important debate. Going into the Job Summit you need outcomes, right? I think some of these suggestions on both sides are counterproductive. Do you not agree?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: I reckon it would be a strange old Jobs Summit if we had everybody drained into walking in with a list of things that they were sure everybody was going to agree with. Actually, we need to expand the list of propositions and ideas and policy proposals, and some of these things make sense.

Laura Jayes: This is a big test for Labor, though, isn't it? I mean, the unions have been waiting for Labor to get back into power for a decade. They're not going to miss this opportunity. So, where's your thinking at?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, I look at the structure of our enterprise bargaining system at the moment, and it shuts most workers and firms out. I look at the experience overseas, where in the countries with big strong manufacturing sectors, with small firms and large firms, they benefit from different types of collective bargaining modes.
And if we're after higher employment, lower unemployment, good jobs, higher productivity, higher wages, I want some of that action for Australia. I want us to be competitive. I want us to build a manufacturing sector. And I want good jobs for girls and boys who are leaving school in the manufacturing sector. And I think that's a challenge for industry, it's a challenge for the unions, it's a challenge for industry to try and build that future. And we're going to try and do it together with people, not by telegraphing the decisions prior to the summit.

Laura Jayes: Look, we're going to take very close notice of the summit. You're right, I am revved up. I think everyone should be it's over where we are at the moment.

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: It's good. Everybody should be interested in this, absolutely.

Laura Jayes: Exactly. We will speak next week, thank you so much.