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Sally McManus on Fixing the Wages Crisis, Avoiding Mental Health Injuries in the Workplace, Carmichael Centre Launched, and more – 12 July 2021

Jul 13, 2021Update

Dear members,

You can view a copy of a series of updates from the Australia Institute’s Centre of Future Work below.

Dear Friends,

Australia’s miserable record on wages growth has gone from bad to worse. For 8 years running now, nominal wages have grown at an average rate of just 2% – barely half of normal rates. That’s barely kept up with inflation, so real wages have been utterly flat. We lag badly behind other industrial countries: in fact, in the 5 years leading up to the pandemic Australia had the 3rd worst real wage growth (zero, in fact) among all OECD nations. Even crisis-wracked Greece did better than Australia! And then, with the onset of COVID-19, things got worse: wages essentially hit the wall last year, and there’s no sign of a coming  rebound.

Unions are fighting hard to raise awareness of the broader economic and social consequences of the wages crisis, and this will be a major theme of the ACTU’s triennial Congress occurring (virtually) 26-28 July. To outline the union movement’s strategy for getting wages rising again, the ACTU’s National Secretary Sally McManus will give a major address this Wednesday, 14 July, 11am-12noon AEST as a guest of the Australia Institute’s widely-subscribed webinar series.

Sally will outline the dimensions of the problem, stress that flat wages are the result of deliberate policy choices (not ‘natural’ market forces), and list several key priorities for fixing the problem. Please join us for Sally’s address and a Q&A session afterward: registration is free but essential, at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/7416257255069/WN_di67DbXwQIOEzmmS9dg7Cw.

Taking Mental Health Seriously in the Workplace

Australia has made great progress in recent years in preventing physical accidents and injuries in workplaces; our system of Model Workplace Health & Safety laws (which requires employers to review operations for potential hazards, and imposes a clear duty of care to prevent accidents) have been a major factor in that success. Unfortunately, neither employers nor state regulators treat the risk of mental health and psychological injuries in workplaces with the same rigour. Health and safety regulations are less specific and binding regarding mental health risks, and many employers still think the solution is to encourage workers to ‘cope’ better – rather than eliminating preventable and known sources of mental health injury.

The Centre for Future Work recently published a report on the economic dimensions of mental health injuries in Australian workplaces. The report, Investing in Better Mental Health in Australian Workplaces, by Liam Carter and Jim Stanford, reports published evidence showing that 15% to 45% of mental health injuries among employed people are due in whole or part to conditions in their jobs. This imposes a cost of $15.8 to $17.4 billion per year on the Australian economy – experienced through absences from work, costs of health treatment, reduced productivity, and other channels. This should give employers and regulators alike plenty of reason to move quickly to audit workplaces for stress and mental health risks, and undertake the same sorts of systematic, legally enforceable measures to reduce the risks to Australian workers.

Shortly after the report was published, state and federal workplace safety ministers met to discuss future changes to the Model WHS laws. Encouragingly, they agreed to amend the regulations to deal more comprehensively with psychological injuries at work. Unions and health and safety advocates are now pressing hard for those amendments to be as strong and comprehensive as possible.

New Research Centre Explores Legacy of Union Leader Laurie Carmichael

The Centre for Future Work is proud to partner with several unions and RMIT in Melbourne to launch a new research centre celebrating and exploring the legacy of Laurie Carmichael, the legendary Australian union leader who passed away in 2018. Carmichael served in numerous leadership capacities during his career, including with the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The Carmichael Centre will be located within the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute. It will undertake research, educational, and related activities relevant to Carmichael’s engagement in a wide range of issues – including the quality of work, unions and collective bargaining, vocational education, industry policy, global affairs and peace, and more. The Centre has also created a new research position, the Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow, to support this work. Dr. Mark Dean, who has conducted and published research in many of these areas, has been appointed as the first Carmichael Fellow.

For more information on the Carmichael Centre, please visit the website. It includes an extensive digital archive featuring documentary materials from Carmichael’s influential career. Please also follow the Carmichael Centre on Twitter and Facebook. More updates on the work of the Carmichael Centre will be forthcoming soon!

Insecure Work Dominates Employment Recovery after COVID

One of the most unfair aspects of the COVID pandemic and resulting recession was the painful concentration of job losses and economic dislocation on the shoulders of some of the most insecure, lowest-paid workers in Australia. Casual workers, part-time workers, young workers, women, and migrant workers and international students lost the most jobs when the lockdowns first hit. Workers in relatively more secure, better-paid jobs were more likely to keep their work – especially those in managerial and professional roles who could work from home. The pandemic thus has a dangerously disequalising impact on Australian society.

Sadly, once employment began to recover after the pandemic (although the new lockdowns in NSW are a major and preventable setback in that recovery), job-creation was dominated once again by an unprecedented surge in insecure and precarious work. Casual jobs accounted for fully 60% of all new jobs created since the worst lockdowns last May; part-time work accounted for 57%; and among self-employed people, very insecure contractor roles and gig jobs accounted for almost all new work.

Centre for Future Work researchers have extensively documented the uneven effects of the pandemic, the rapid re-emergence of insecure work after the lockdowns, and the painful economic and social consequences of a precarious labour market. For more details, please see: