In September 2018, the Australian Senate published the results of a year-long inquiry into the future of work and workers in Australia. The report synthesises submissions from businesses, union organisations, academics and other interested parties in an attempt to develop a strategy for a changing global economy. In particular, it looked at the impact of technological and other change on both workers and the workplace, and examines how the Government and businesses should prepare for that change.
Subtitled hope is not a strategy, the report is clear that the workplace is changing in ways that require a response. With 24 recommendations arising from the report, there are a number of things that can be done. Some of these pertain to changes to government benefits such as Newstart, as well as superannuation laws. Others focus on industrial relations issues, recommending additional protection for interns, casual workers and gig economy workers. The final category of recommendations focuses on educating the workforce for a future in which STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is set to become more important than ever before.
Here are the main points you need to know from the report.
1. There will be growth in key people sectors
There are more Australians of working age in paid employment than at any other time in the nation’s history. Unsurprisingly, what we do has shifted, from a heavily agricultural nation in 1900 to a heavily services-based one today. The services sector now represents over 70% of GDP.
In the next five years, the largest area for growth is projected to be in the areas of health care and social services. This reflects our ageing population: Australians enjoy the fifth longest life expectancy in the world at 82.5 years, and the number of Australians over 65 is projected to double by 2035. Professional, scientific and technical services, construction and education follow as the next largest sectors.
Read more: Is Your Industry Ripe For Disruption?
2. The definition of ’employee’ is outdated
With the growth of the ‘gig economy’, the current definition of employee now applies to fewer workers than it used to.
Young employees are commonly employed under gig economy platforms, making them one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of workplace protection. Rating systems instead of dispute resolution procedures, circumvention of penalty rate legislation and a lack of safety procedures are all issues to be resolved.
With this in mind, the report suggests updating the employee definition in order to capture gig economy workers. This would see gig platforms like Uber and Deliveroo given extra responsibilities to their drivers, along with benefits afforded to currently classified employees.
3. Non-standard employment is more prevalent
Along with the gig economy, there has been an explosion in casual, contract and freelance employment. In many cases, workers are employed as ‘permanent casuals’ and are prevented from obtaining full-time positions under current classification systems. As a result, they are often locked out of benefits like long service leave.
The report recommends that future workplace law should ensure that every worker, however they are classified, should receive fundamental workplace rights and entitlements. This includes ensuring that workers and their unions share the economic gains that flow from technological change.
4. Artificial intelligence and STEM are more important than ever before
The threat of digital disruption to many jobs, especially blue collar employment, was a major feature of the report. However, artificial intelligence and STEM developments also present an opportunity to prepare Australians for the future workplace. The risks versus the benefits continue to be a subject of lively debate: will artificial intelligence replace jobs and dispossess workers, or will it open up new fields of employment?
Accordingly, a key recommendation of the report is that the government makes STEM skills a particular focus, those being skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This should start at the primary education level but continue as a focus up until and including tertiary education. There should also be a focus on the development and ethics of artificial intelligence, and on the emerging fields that it creates.
To meet the future of work head-on, the report is adamant that a clear strategy is needed. While artificial intelligence and automation are among the perceived threats, in reality, there are already significant changes to the world of work: How and where it’s done, the nature of our employment and the relationships between employer and employee are all changing. Seeing this change as an opportunity allows us to meet it with optimism and in the spirit of fairness.
Similar read: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means for The Future of Work
Find the full report here – Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.