Australian businesses want to work with unions on lifting wages but warn that allowing industry-wide bargaining will hurt jobs, especially in the regions.
Companies and workers are also being encouraged to embrace change, as jobs with high levels of change are less likely to be replaced with automation.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday about the challenge technology presents to jobs and businesses.
“I do not want to see a class of people trapped in low-paid, challenging or even exploitative jobs,” Ms Westacott said.
“We need to carefully consider how we protect people without creating the rigidities that smother job opportunities.”
She warned the Australian Council of Trade Union’s push to restart industry-wide bargaining would have unintended consequences.
“Somewhere in Australia irrespective of your town, your circumstances, and your conditions, your agreement will be negotiated by a big union, potentially in another state,” Ms Westacott said.
“It will hurt workers in regions and it will hurt the least skilled.”
But she told the ACTU her door is open and her phone is on.
“Simply turning every single issue into a big business issue, simply by a ‘victims-and-villains’ conflict way of managing important complex public debate, it will not advance the cause,” she said.
Ms Westacott also wants a Productivity Commission inquiry into entrenched disadvantage, a national inquiry into literacy programs and efforts to improve vocational education and training.
She said research showed jobs with high rates of “task change” were most protected from automation or retrenchment.
The BCA says Australians need to consider jobs that will remain but will change, and new jobs that technology will create.
“The reason task change is so important is because it is the best weapon to protect jobs and create new jobs,” Ms Westacott said.
But Ms Westacott says Australian companies can’t hold back from innovation and automation.
The BCA also says Australian companies are lagging in productivity, which can unlock even more growth.
“I’m not talking about people working harder for less,” Ms Westacott said.
“What I am talking about is companies expanding, innovating and investing so that people can work more effectively.”
An ACTU spokesman said Ms Westacott had got sector collective bargaining wrong.
“The current system is working very well for big business,” he said.
“Their workers are not sharing in productivity gains and some businesses have used the current enterprise-only system to deliver record low wage growth and to make jobs more insecure.”
The ACTU said it did not want an end to enterprise bargaining, but said it was not delivering for too many Australian workers.