Monday, 18 June 2007
Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation Committee; Report
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation, I present the committee’s report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled Current vacancies: Workforce challenges facing the Australian tourism sector, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.
Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.
This report makes an important contribution to the future of the Australian tourism industry. The findings of the committee reflect the pressures facing an industry that is experiencing steady growth, without the corresponding growth in the number of available workers. The committee was told that there are many employers desperately seeking employees, from managers to waiters, housekeepers and chefs.
The tourism industry is an impressive one. It employs some 550,000 people, contributing 5.6 per cent of total employment and 3.9 per cent of total GDP. It also contributes to Australia’s reputation on the world stage, with a high number of international tourists. The committee has made a series of recommendations aimed at better placing the industry to meet the challenges of its high workforce needs. The report discusses the disparity in data and the difficulties this poses in workforce planning. Recommendations are made aimed at the compilation and analysis of employment data.
Being a seasonal industry, tourism operators have challenging workforce planning needs. There are significant peaks and troughs in employment demand and, while there is scope for operators to share common pools of employees, the lack of industry coordination means that these opportunities are often missed. The committee has recommended that support be given to the development of a seasonal workforce management plan that will better focus on building community and industry-wide cooperation.
Migrant labour is heavily used by the tourism industry, largely in the form of backpackers on working holiday visas. The committee has recommended an extension of these visas for individuals who undertake work in rural or regional areas. The committee is aware that there is little departmental support for this recommendation, but having reviewed the evidence, we see no good reason for this approach.
The report also discusses the lengthy delays in the issuing of business visas. While in Broome, the committee heard that often these delays were longer than the season the visa was actually sought for. These unacceptable delays place a heavy burden on industry.
The suitability of the migration occupations on demand list is discussed in the report. The committee calls for a review of the MODL to recognise that many skilled occupations in areas of demand include front-of-house staff in restaurants. While they meet national training standards, the MODL criteria are too restrictive and are causing a genuine problem, which can be fixed by following the committee’s approach.
Recommendations are also made calling on the immigration program to better address labour shortages in rural and regional areas, and make better use of the large pool of international students undertaking tertiary qualifications but who are unable to work for extended periods in Australia.
The recruitment and retention practice of the industry varies greatly. There are many small and medium sized owner-operated businesses with little human resource management experience. There is a need for industry to endorse and promote the value of multi-employer career paths. The committee recommends establishing an industry leaders forum to draw together the industry and focus on the mutual benefits of career paths. We also recommend the use of the experience of the ‘grey nomads’ as a valuable addition to the tourism workforce. It is a group which seems to be forgotten by a sector that all too often looks for cheap young labour. The report also highlights that Indigenous tourism is on the rise, but without the corresponding growth in Indigenous employment. Research needs to be undertaken on how to better involve the First Australians in tourism employment.
The report discusses the ‘culture of turnover’ in the industry. With some employers reporting turnover rates of up to 400 per cent, the industry needs to reduce staff turnover costs with an investment in retention. We believe there needs to be an incentive for workers to stay in the industry. The establishment of an industry long service leave scheme will allow workers who follow a career with multiple employers to have recognition of their commitment to the industry.
Training is discussed at length. There are inconsistencies between nationally recognised and suitable in-house training, and this needs to be improved. The report makes a series of recommendations supporting this. Chief amongst these is the need to change the funding regime for national training to one that is competence rather than time based. This change will allow training to be delivered to employees who work seasonally and gain skills and experience which would then be recognised in the formal training system.
Many seem to see tourism jobs as something you do until another career comes along, yet in other parts of the world tourism professionals are highly regarded. The report recognises that, and recommends that a professional body be established charged with formally recognising and accrediting individuals against prescribed experience. (Time expired)
I am happy to follow the member for Moreton in speaking on this report of the Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation. I am very happy to be associated with this report. Unlike what was indicated by the member for Moreton, there is no dissenting report included in this document.
I congratulate the member for Moreton on his personal style of inclusiveness and, dare I say, enthusiasm. He certainly led the committee in such a way that there was very much a genuine bipartisan spirit and clearly one that was focused on the committee’s outcomes. So I do commend the report. I intend to speak in the Main Committee later about the attention, effort, dedication and professionalism of the secretariat. That is a resource that we should never take for granted. Their efforts in these inquiries always amaze me.
To give a snapshot of the industry: it employs over half a million people, it generates in excess of $17 billion of annual export earnings and it contributes 3.9 per cent of the GDP of the Australian economy. It is predicted that we will see strong growth in the industry, particularly through development of the Indian and Chinese markets as well as an expanding domestic market. This is clearly a very important industry. It is important economically and culturally and it is certainly a significant employment generator. It is an industry of enormous opportunity for this country.
While the committee’s report and recommendations were made without dissent, Labor members, in their additional comments, sought to highlight three factors which were widely regarded during the inquiry as significantly affecting the industry’s ability to attract and retain staff. These are: low pay and poor conditions; a lack of investment in training and staff development, which the member for Moreton referred to; and a reliance on temporary employees and the use of 457 visas as opposed to providing industry career opportunities—if you like, the job you have before having a real job.
Labor members observed that the application of Work Choices in an industry such as tourism—which was universally recognised throughout the inquiry as being characterised by hard work, low pay and poor conditions—could only result in the lowering of pay for an already low-paid sector of the Australian workforce. The House will recall recent debates concerning the Australian Hotels Association’s template AWA, which relied upon the Lilac City Motel—which provides for a minimum wage of $13.47 an hour, no penalty rates, no shift loading, no overtime, no payment for public holidays and no rest breaks—and the impassioned defence that the Prime Minister sought to make of that agreement.
As that was a template AWA prepared by the industry association, the committee should have not been surprised that the most outspoken supporter of Work Choices was Mr Peter Olah of the very same industry association. In his evidence to the inquiry Mr Olah conceded that there were regular breaches of industrial relations laws and non-adherence to award conditions throughout the industry. More surprisingly, Mr Olah conceded that Work Choices assisted the industry by allowing what had hitherto not been legal to be made legal. That was the evidence from one of the peak bodies of the industry, which wants to argue for greater access to overseas workers—guest workers, if you like—and which not only concedes the practice of award avoidance but designs template AWAs for its members that rely on minimum pay and conditions as being standard in the industry.
The one resounding message from all parts of the industry is that Work Choices is only allowing those in an already low-paid industry to be paid less. Hotel staff, bar staff, cleaners and restaurant staff all feel that Work Choices opens the floodgates, allowing their wages and conditions to remain constantly under threat in a highly competitive market. I will take the opportunity in the Main Committee to refer to various recommendations of this report, which received the bipartisan support of all members of the committee. I commend this report to the House.
The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Moreton wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a later occasion?
That the House take note of the report.
In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.