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How Labor’s Jobs and Skills Summit Could Impact Australian Music Biz

Labor’s jobs and skills summit presented a number of welcomed outcomes that workers in the music and arts sectors have long been expressing concern about.

The summit was held by the Treasury in Canberra last week.

Among the proposals discussed at the summit was a commitment to take immediate action to build a bigger, better-trained, and more productive workforce. Other key themes included increased wages, 21st-century skills, and greater opportunities for First Nations and people with disabilities.

For a sector set to rebuild after the release of the Music Industry Review, possible guidelines came from promised summit upshots for the wider industry.

These were for laws expressly prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, a push for women’s economic participation and equality, a Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce to provide independent advice, and strengthening of existing reporting standards to require employers with more than 500 employees to commit to improving gender equality in their workplaces.

Businesses with 100 employees or more would be required to publicly report their gender pay gap to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

In the United Kingdom, music firms must annually go public about their gender pay gap, which was essential for the biz to address the issue.

The music and arts sectors were represented at the summit by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) union which represents 15,000 members, and the Australia Council for the Arts.

MEAA CEO Erin Madeley told the summit that “over 60% of workers in the performing arts earn less than the minimum wage from their creative practice” and a “lack of access to the bargaining system, the uncertainty of freelance and gig employment, lack of minimum pay and entitlements means the sustainability of these industries is threatened.”

The MEAA reiterated 2017 statistics that the average income for artists – creative and non-creative – was $48,000, 21% below the workforce average.

Madeley emphasised, “Governments have a critical role to play in setting standards and ensuring wage justice.”

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette urged, “We need to address the current skills gaps and labour shortages as a priority, providing targeted training to rebuild the creative workforce and ensuring the sector continues to thrive.”

To underline the urgency for skills training and retraining, he noted how in 2020, Australia’s live sector lost $1.4 billion in revenue due to the pandemic.

The cancellation of 32,000 gigs and events saw nearly $94 million of income lost between July 1, 2021, and August 31, 2021.

“Before the pandemic, cultural and creative activity in Australia contributed $115.8 billion, or 6.3% of GDP, to our economy,” Collette said.

“In 2016, more than 645,000 people (6% of the workforce) worked in the cultural and creative industries as their main industry of employment.

“This is over three times the mining industry and more than 15 times aviation.”

ArtsHub reported the National Association for the Visual Arts, UMI Arts and Australian Craft and Design Centres called for the summit to consider other initiatives for creatives.

These included a recognised award rate for creatives with superannuation for gig workers and long service leave, the establishment of a First Nations Workforce Development Fund, higher education funding for creative courses, reduced tuition fees for arts subjects, and a Trade Course to increase the number of qualified production and technical staff.

Not surprising, skills shortages and retraining of arts workers and production crew was a recurring topic at the Australian Festival Industry Conference (August 30 – September 1).

Events director Thea Jeanes-Cochrane’s keynote stressed the importance of 21st-century skills to the live sector for better experiences for customers and new efficiencies for operators.

“Audiences will be in for elevated experiences as we push the boundaries of what technology can bring to the live experience, and importantly where technology can take the live experience.”

In the Workforce Skills and Labour Shortages: Planning for the Future panel, TAFE QLD’s Jo Gaddes outlined how it addressed the problem by expanding its curriculum to include events production and staff training.

Badi Mahabat, co-founder of staffing company Casual Hands, said that the problem was not solved just when companies found workers.

“Many times they don’t have the skills and the experience, and companies don’t have the budget to retrain them or hire more staff to cover for them,” he said.




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