Details are emerging of the results of the government’s Jobs and Skills Summit, addressing the employment challenges holding back the country and crippling hospitality.
The two-day Summit last week came after more than 100 recent roundtables around the country, across different portfolios.
Stephen Ferguson, CEO of the National AHA, represented hospitality amid more than 50 business and industry groups, alongside 143 delegates from trade unions, community groups, and all tiers of government.
The AHA entered a detailed 35-page submission, outlining amongst other things 102,000 vacant positions in hospitality.
Ferguson described the Summit as an “early win” for the Albanese Government, succeeding in bringing together a range of special interests that do not usually agree on much.
He says the greatest contributor to the staffing crisis was when skilled workers were sent home in April 2020, rather than be put on support payments like other workers, which was “despite our objections” at the time.
A key topic of the talks was how other domestic worker markets could be better developed for industries such as hospitality. To this end there came an initiative to enable more pensioners back into part-time work, allowing age pensions a one-off credit in FY23 of an additional $4k without losing any of their pension.
Government also announced it will be reviewing the workplace bargaining system, paving the way for multi-employer and sector-wide bargaining – moves the Association is monitoring carefully.
In all 72 resolutions were cited for immediate or future action, but the hot topic was incoming overseas workers, filling roles Australia simply doesn’t have the people to do.
“Our priority is to hire people from Australia,” says the AHA CEO. “It costs a lot to bring in workers, about $30k, with a whole range of tests and fees.
“But we need the workers now, to teach new workers.”
The backlog in visa processing was prominent in discussions, with Home Affairs Minster Clare O’Neil describing it as “fiendishly complex, expensive, bureaucratic, and takes an eternity to get things done”.
It incorporates 70 different visa types, labour market testing, skills assessments, and the TSMIT (Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold), which dictates the minimum salary of a person deemed ‘skilled’ and needing to be brought from overseas.
The TSMIT was amended ten years ago to $53,900, but not indexed, and government is saying it needs to be increased. The AHA is eager to see any change allow the in-demand hospitality worker roles to make the cut.
The cap on skilled migration has been increased by 35k (to 195k), and government has pledged an additional $36 million and 500 staff to processing the backlog – largely inherited from the Morrison administration – which has so far been reduced about 10 per cent.
O’Neil is reportedly going to appoint three eminent Australians to review the entire visa system, which will take in the distinction between skilled and unskilled workers, influencing from where many future hotel employees may stem.
“At the moment it’s very expensive to come to Australia,” notes Ferguson. “For people we rely on, such as international students and backpackers, the airfares are significant and they’re faced with this visa backlog.
“There is opportunity for us to end up in a better system, and I think that’s a good thing.
“We just have to make sure the type of people we’re after are still identified and recognised by the government.”