12/11/2008 - 22:00

Cultural element to labour problems

12/11/2008 - 22:00


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THE skills shortage has been an important element in the changes to Perth's social fabric during the past five years.

Cultural element to labour problems

THE skills shortage has been an important element in the changes to Perth's social fabric during the past five years.

The WA Business News forum heard that a more flexible migration program and the greater numbers of overseas workers coming to the state may have muted some of the impact that the skills crisis has had on wages, housing shortage and inflation.

Managing director of drill and blast services company, Brandrill, Ken Perry, believes the inherent lack of labour flexibility in Australia hasn't helped, with interstate migration failing to relieve Western Australia's skills shortage.

"The major reason for that is that here, unlike America or Europe, a lot people own their own homes rather than rent, and we're not going to be able to change that; we're going to have pockets of high employment and high unemployment situated right here in Australia," Mr Perry said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive James Pearson said Perth's expensive housing had been a hurdle to attracting more workers in the state.

"The lack of flexibility in the economy has meant that we didn't have accessible and affordable housing in Western Australia, which has been a deterrent for people from the eastern states, let alone from overseas," Mr Pearson told the forum.

"That's clearly an area where the government can pull a lever and release more land. It's not as simple as that but it's the first step in the chain of activity and it doesn't happen enough."

The lack of skilled workers has made the Perth market very competitive for employers to hire skilled staff, pushing up wages and conditions.

"WA is Perth-centric with fly-in, fly-out, two weeks on, one week off changing to close to one week on, one week off. I will need close to 33 per cent more people to operate the same number of drills," Mr Perry said.

"I had a guy in Queensland who turned us down at $160,000 a year on one week on, one week off, because it wasn't enough money."

Australian Visa Professionals managing director Nigel Sanders said the skills shortage should be regarded as the number one issue by government.

"When you're trying to put a lid on inflation...the wages growth is one of its primary drivers," he said.

Mr Perry believes that building a population centre of half a million people in the Pilbara could make a difference to skills shortage and social issues.

"A city somewhere in the Pilbara transforms the state, increases labour productivity, stops the fly-in, fly-out and its impact on family and relationships and prevents another million people being in Perth, which I don't think we need from a Perth perspective," Mr Perry said

"All of a sudden Newman and Tom Price are no longer isolated, they're close to Pilbara City."


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