The peak body for Australian small businesses is urging the new government to address widespread staff shortages by increasing migration numbers and removing barriers to workforce participation.
COSBOA CEO Alexi Boyd said “Ask any small business owner what the number one concern is right now and there’s a high chance they’ll tell you it’s staff shortages. Small business owners are keen to benefit from the economic boom, but they can’t because they just can’t find the workers."
“With 86% fewer Working Holiday Visa Makers and 44% fewer international students in the country than in 2019, we need to play catch up to get migration numbers back to where they would have been had COVID not occurred.”
“It’s not just unskilled positions; from accounting to IT to hairdressing, skilled positions are increasingly hard to fill."
Ms Boyd added “There’s a need to boost Australia’s reputation overseas as a desirable place to work and study. We’re hearing from our members that students and workers who may have chosen Australia in the past are deciding to move to places like Canada and the UK for fear of being subjected to lockdowns and other harsh restrictions. We need to assure the rest of the world that Australia is open for good and no longer a fortress island.”
Ms Boyd continued “Migration isn’t the only solution. There are plenty of Australians who may not be unemployed but face barriers to working more hours.
“Many Australians would like to re-engage with the workforce but face losing their family tax benefits or pension as soon as their income reaches a certain threshold. This is unfair disincentive to work should be removed in this time of economic recovery.
“Similarly, many people of all ages would like to take up a second job but face being taxed at the maximum rate if they do so. This is a barrier for many looking underemployed workers looking for additional hours."
“Harder to solve but more significant barriers are the cost of childcare and the cost of housing. We’re hearing that small businesses are finding people to take shifts only for them to turn around and say ‘I can’t take this job because I can’t afford to put my kid in childcare while I’m at work’, or ‘I can’t find anywhere to live near this job.’”
Ms Boyd concluded “The consequences of not addressing the problem are clear. For many small business owners this means roping in friends and family to cover shifts, and often working extra hours in the business themselves, reducing the time they have to work on compliance, business growth, and innovation.”
“For others, being short-staffed might mean that they have to close early or close on Sundays, making our cities less vibrant and reducing choice for people keen to get out and about after COVID-19.”
“There may not be a silver bullet, but we need to start pulling the trigger to implement some solutions.”
Summary of key recommendations by COSBOA
- Increase temporary non-skilled and skilled migration numbers
- Fund a marketing campaign to improve the international perception of Australia as a good place to work and study
- Remove pension test so that older Australians can work more hours without losing their pension
- Review tax rate of second jobs
- Address the cost of childcare
- Address the cost of housing.