Release type: Transcript


Interview — Sky News AM Agenda with Laura Jayes


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

18 AUGUST 2022

SUBJECTS: Wages growth, Jobs and Skills Summit, agriculture visas, workers’ rights, resources profits.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Welcome back. Well, annual wages growth in Australia has risen to 2.6 per cent. That’s the highest level since 2014. And the Treasurer Jim Chalmers has been pretty cautious in welcoming these figures. He says he is aware of the challenges posed by the rising cost of living. This is why wages, productivity, job security, women’s experience will be the focus of the Albanese government’s upcoming jobs summit. 

Joining me live is the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke. We’ve been talking about wages for a very long time, Tony Burke. 


JAYES: Wages are actually going backwards at the fastest pace we’ve seen in 25 years. That’s real wages. When is it going to get better? 

BURKE: Well, what needs to happen is we need to get wages moving themselves, and the intention is and the projections that Jim Chalmers made clear when he brought down the economic statement a few weeks ago in Parliament is that if we get wages moving you then get that crossover point as inflation starts to fall where people’s real wages start to move forward. 

I mean, the odd thing about these figures, first of all, is that in terms of straight wages – how much people are getting in their pay packet – it is starting to improve, but it’s still a long way off where it needs to be but it’s starting to improve. But it’s against an environment where inflation at the moment around the world and here in Australia is soaring. 

JAYES: Yeah. 

BURKE: So, in terms of what that means in people’s homes, it means exactly what you said – at the moment people are seeing their costs rise faster than their wages, and we need to deal with both halves of that equation. And what – you know, when you mentioned that you and I have been talking about it for a long time in terms of the need to get wages moving, you know, we had a decade where it was a deliberate policy of government to keep wages low. Now we need to turn that on its head and have policies to get wages moving. 

JAYES: You say that they’re improving but a long way from where they need to be. It’s 2.6 per cent at the moment, the last quarter. So where – how far short is it in your view, inflation aside? 

BURKE: Well, inflation aside, where you want is you want people each year to be getting ahead. Like, that’s the simplicity of what you want. The Reserve Bank Governor – 

JAYES: But if it’s not 2.6 per cent, what is it? Is it 5 per cent? Closer to that? 

BURKE: Well, if you’re taking it in terms of people getting ahead, the normal metric that’s there is long-term inflation there’s a productivity dividend of 1 per cent on top of that. And so where the Reserve Bank Governor has said is sort of an anchor point – not a cap by any means, but an anchor point – he’s referred to 3.5 as being your long-term sustainable growth if you have inflation in its normal bandwidth between 2 and 3 per cent. 

JAYES: Okay. 

BURKE: So that’s what the Reserve Bank Governor has said. The principle, though, that we want, the simplicity of the principle, is that we want people to be getting ahead of where prices are at. Now, there are some areas where there needs to be movement and faster movement. Women across the board tend to be underpaid and the pay equity gap there is real and that needs to be addressed. That’s part of what we’re doing with the aged care case at the moment – it's trying to get a significant wage rise there for people working in the aged care sector. So there are some areas where for those workers the need for a pay increase is significantly above what you might look at across the whole economy. 

JAYES: Okay. Let’s look at the jobs summit, the upcoming jobs summit. Do you know what businesses are attending? Who have you extended an invitation to, and how did you decide on which businesses would be attending and which weren’t? 

BURKE: Yeah, Jim Chalmers is the one who’s got full charge of the guest list, and so he’ll announce that as we get closer to it. You always are going to end up in a situation where you have some people who could have made a fantastic contribution who aren’t in the door when you’re limiting numbers. It’s one of the reasons why so many ministers have been holding roundtables in advance of the jobs summit that become part of the summit process. So I’m conducting a series of those myself, and right through to local members of parliament some of them have been conducting them in their electorate as well to feed those views in. 

In terms of who’s in the door on the day, we do know David Littleproud will be there. He was invited and said yes. We know that Peter Dutton won’t be. He was invited and said no. But you will see a big representation from business, from the union movement, from different organisations there as well. But you’re always going to end up with people – some people who could have made a great contribution who aren’t in the door. 

JAYES: Will it pay a dividend to David Littleproud? Are you going to finally fix that ag visa? 

BURKE: He’ll raise that issue. One thing that I want to make sure of is anything with visas – and this goes directly to my responsibilities – isn’t used as a way of driving wages down and of exploitation of workers. 

JAYES: Well, that’s a good point, isn’t it. I think everyone has acknowledged that we do need more migrant workers at the moment. The unions, the AWU for one, has said for every migrant worker they want to see businesses pay for the either reskilling or upskilling of a domestic worker. Is that something that you would agree to and enforce? 

BURKE: It’s a good idea that’s being put to the summit, and we’ll see where the conversation takes us. What I know is the examples of workers being exploited that I’ve spoken with you about over the years on the program have disproportionately been people on visas. So when we’ve talked about some of the delivery riders and we went through – we had that period of a few months where we had more than five people dying in those jobs overwhelmingly those individuals were visa workers. When we talked about people in horticulture some being paid as little as $2 an hour, those workers, some of whom I met, one woman by the name of Kate, from Taiwan was on a visa here from Taiwan as a worker. 

So the issues of us needing more workers, absolutely true. We need to make sure that we move away from the world where we’ve been in the last decade where so many of those individuals were also being exploited. 

JAYES: Well, the Fair Work Commission has just overturned a decision to give more rights to these workers. So what does that say? This is an independent commission that seems at odds with what you’re saying this morning. 

BURKE: Not at all. If you have a look at that decision from the Fair Work Commission, it’s really interesting because they’ve acknowledged that the circumstance of the worker they were talking about, that that worker’s treatment – this is the words of the commission – harsh, unjust, unreasonable. They found all of that was true. They also found that technically this individual doesn’t satisfy the definition of employee, therefore there’s nothing they can do. And this is the problem that we have. 

JAYES: So you’re going to change that definition, aren’t you? When? 

BURKE: We want to add a new category of people who are employee-like. So instead of it being if you’re an employee you get a whole lot of rights, if you’re not an employee your rights fall off a cliff, a situation where we turn that cliff into a ramp and if you’re employee-like, to the extent that you’re like an employee the Fair Work Commission can determine what are the appropriate minimum standards for those workers. I don’t want us to be –

JAYES: Well, doesn’t this all prove that Uber should be around the table at the jobs summit? 

BURKE: Well, one of the things I'm really happy about, Uber is one of the companies that has now signed an agreement with the Transport Workers Union quite specifically saying they want there to be minimum standards and they want there to be an independent commission dealing with that. We’re in consultation now, so this isn’t something where we need to go to the summit for new ideas on this one. We took formed policy on this one, which no program dealt with in more detail, actually, than your own over the last three years, and that policy we’re now consulting with business on how we might advance the implementation of it. But effectively I don’t want Australia to be a country where you have to rely on tips to be able to make ends meet. 

JAYES: Yeah. 

BURKE: I want people to have the technology. I don’t want to smash the technology, but 21st century technology should never mean 19th century working conditions. 

JAYES: Just a final one – coal and iron ore, but coal in particular, huge profits. BHP up 170 per cent. That’s really going to save the federal government’s budget, isn’t it? 

BURKE: Look, it’s for Jim to go through all of those numbers. 

JAYES: Sure. 

BURKE: But there’s no doubt from the economic statement he gave previously that we have a whole lot of different stories going on in the country at the moment where we do have the sections of the resources industry, some extraordinary prices at the moment and the economy is benefitting from that. We have other sections of the economy – 

JAYES: Maybe revisit a super profits tax. What do you reckon? 

BURKE: It’s not for me to rule in or rule out, but you’re the only person who’s been suggesting that directly to me I’ve got to say. 

JAYES: Okay. We’ll talk soon, Tony Burke, in the lead-up to this jobs summit, at the jobs summit and beyond. We’ll speak soon. 

BURKE: Okay, thanks, Laura.