With immaculate timing, jobs data for February emerged showing a robust — so far — employment recovery at exactly the moment the government was insisting the defeat of its industrial relations bill would harm jobs growth.
“If they don’t want to support these job-making initiatives,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said about the Senate after it trashed his legislation, “that is on them.” That came only a couple of hours after we learnt the economy had created nearly 90,000 new jobs — all full-time — in February.
It seems the current jobs market is working pretty well — despite the Coalition and business groups insisting it isn’t.
There’ll be one more month of good jobs growth in March and then the impact of the withdrawal of JobKeeper will arrive, particularly in regional communities. And that, of course, is on Morrison — not the Senate.
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Australian employment is back to where it was before the pandemic, which is excellent news — a tribute to Morrison and Josh Frydenberg’s fiscal stimulus, the Reserve Bank’s (RBA) emergency monetary policy measures, and the states’ handling of the pandemic.
But the bigger story — once we see what impact the withdrawal of JobKeeper has — is wages growth. That’s the main economic game for the RBA, which wants to see wages growth in the high threes or fours before it will countenance tightening monetary policy.
The government’s industrial relations bill was always about undermining, not supporting, wages growth by supporting increased casualisation and making it easier to cut wages. One of the few protective measures for workers — criminalising wage theft — was stripped out by the government yesterday in a fit of pique.
Part-time minister Christian Porter gets to avoid responsibility for the defeat courtesy of his mental health/consult the defo laywers leave, but Michaelia Cash — the deputy leader in the Senate and one of apparently several ministers doing Porter’s job for him — gets to wear it. One wonders if Mathias Cormann might have got more of the bill over the line. Maybe he can make some calls from Paris.
Remember: this bill began life as a proposed “Kumbaya” moment of national unity with employers, unions and the government getting together in a spirit of pandemic-enforced harmony to agree to a set of reforms. Very quickly — amid divisions among employer groups — it reverted to an attack on unions, with the government belatedly pulling a “worse off overall” test from its back pocket for companies who could claim to have been affected by the pandemic.
The whole exercise serves to demonstrate that employer groups will never give up on their quest to remove industrial relations protections and lower wages growth.
Australian workers have endured a wages growth strike from employers for nearly a decade, and it shows no signs of ending — even if the media doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Yet we’re still talking about the need for more flexibility and greater powers to lower wages and conditions. Even on the day when the job market showed a stunning recovery.