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Language and literacy skills - the key to workplace bargaining

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8 April 1992


Workplaces will fail to reap the benefits of workplace bargaining if they ignore the issue of language and literacy at work, Senator Peter Cook, Commonwealth Minister for Industrial Relations, said today.

Senator Cook launched the video information kit Language £ Literacy at Work. Better Jobs, a Smarter Future at the 1 Language and Industry' conference in Adelaide today. -'Australia loses from between $3.2 billion and $6.5 billion a year in productivity because people have difficulty with reading

and writing', Senator Cook said.

1 For workplace bargaining to proceed, and for everyone to benefit from the process, all participants must be able to communicate effectively.

1 Smart employers are realising that their entire workforce needs to be able to speak and read English well to operate new technology and to adopt new work practices that will take their industries into the future.

'About one in seven workers have difficulty with language and literacy skills.

'Employers must also understand that many of their workers, including those whose first language is English, need more proficient language and literacy skills.

'Companies can beat their competitors to a more productive workplace if they provide language and literacy classes, for instance, for their employees.

1 These companies are not wasting time and effort, but are providing a constructive way for their employees to participate more fully at work - the essence of workplace bargaining.

' It is for this reason the Department of Industrial Relations has produced the language and literacy video information kit, "Language & Literacy at Work. Better jobs, a Smarter Future".

1 Commitment has already been given by SBS-TV to play three promotional television excerpts, which are available in English and five other languages, which form part of tne kit along witn another 5-minute video and booklet.

1 The kit highlights benefits to employers from helping their employees gain better language skills in the workplace1, Senator Cook said. '

For information contact: Ministerial - Don Mackay 06 2777320 Departmental - Leona Jorgensen 06 2437922



Message from Senator Peter Cook Minister for Industrial Relations Improving English language and literacy skills at work is a major issue for all Australians.

In order to survive, Australian industry must become more competitive in world markets. This demands a flexible and skilled workforce with good reading, writing, numeracy and spoken English skills.

The Government's industry reform program, including workplace bargaining, requires a workforce capable of coping with increased levels of workplace consultation, skill acquisition and training — all of which place new demands on workers' language and literacy skills.

If the poor level of English language and literacy skills in the Australian workforce is not addressed, it will lead to greater social and economic inequality in Australia. '

We have heard the figures before, but they are still startling. It is estimated that one in seven Australian workers has difficulty with reading and writing. This is costing Australia at least $3.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

The problem is not restricted to migrants; most of these workers were bom in Australia and many are employed in industries undergoing radical change.

Developing and implementing workplace English language and literacy training raises important industrial considerations. These include: integrating language and literacy training into new career path structures; developing training which balances workplace and worker needs; negotiating access to training; responsibility for funding of training; and monitoring and evaluating the impact of training.

Another major industrial issue is health and safety. Workers with poor English language and literacy skills face increased risk of injury in the workplace. These matters are being faced cooperatively by governments, employers and unions and workers.

My Department is playing an active role in trying to solve these problems. We are ensuring that, wherever relevant, workplace language and literacy issues are integrated into projects funded under the Workplace Reform Program. We are promoting the benefits of work based language and literacy training to employers, unions and workers.

My Department plays an important consultative role in the Government’s Workplace English Language and Literacy Program (WELL) which is administered jointly by the Department of Immigration, Local Government

and Ethnic Affairs and the Department of Employment, Education and Training. The WELL Program is an excellent example of national Departments working together to tackle an issue which is vital for the nation.

English language and literacy training are building blocks to reskilling and retraining.

They are a key to increased productivity, improved health and safety in the workplace, better quality products, better communication, and improved job satisfaction.

We m ust all ensure that poor English language and literacy skills do not become stumbling blocks to Australia's economic progress.

April 1992

Language and Literacy Fact Sheet

In the 1990's, Australian Industry m ust dedicate itself to achieving growth and developm ent Poor English language and literacy skills in the workplace slow down industry's ability to reform and restructure. By investing in language and literacy training, benefits are obtained by workers, enterprises and the Australian economy.

The problem

It is estimated that one in sewn workers has significant problems with English language and literacy.

The need to upgrade and diversify communication skills is a challenge presented to the Australian, workforce. As the demand for a more skilled workforce grows, it is necessary to develop the skills of the existing workforce.

Why Is language and literacy training s o Important?

Workers must be able to communicate effectively before significant changes can occur in Australian workplaces. '

New technology has created new jobs, requiring more sophisticated skills. Entry level jobs which require little or no formal education are diminishing.

Workplace bargaining and the emphasis on consultation in the workplace will demand better communication skills.

The cost

The high cost of poor language and literacy should be of concern to every Australian employer and worker.

Workplace studies have estimated that the cost of inefficiencies resulting from poor language and literacy skills is between $3.2 and $6.5 billion per year.

The b en efits

Studies have demonstrated that workplace English language and literacy classes have contributed to improved efficiency, product quality and a reduction in workplace accidents. The benefits are felt by both managers and employees. Managers have reported improvements in productivity due to:

• better access to existing skills of workers from non-English speaking backgrounds; • better quality control of products and less wastage; .

•' more efficient functioning of machinery and less machinery failure; and • safer workplaces.

Employees experience: • improved job and career opportunities; • improved access to training;

• greater job satisfaction; and • a safer and more harmonious workplace.

W hose responsibility?

All parties involved in industry have a responsibility to contribute to the English language and literacy training of workers.

The parties contribute to this training in a number of ways:

Employers • provide a suitable venue for classes; • identify the training needs of employees; and • use the Training Guarantee Scheme to devote resources to the

language and literacy needs of workers.

Unions • raise awareness of the benefits of literacy and English language training; and • work with employer organisations and individual employers on the

development of appropriate training arrangements for their workers.

Commonwealth and State Governments • provide funding for training infrastructure, institutions, programs, educational and social justice campaigns.

Workers • make an energetic and enthusiastic commitment to new learning on top of normal work demands.

In practice a cooperative, flexible and successful arrangement can be negotiated to meet the needs o f enterprises, employees and governments.

The WELL Program

The Workplace English Language and Literacy Program (WELL) is a recent Commonwealth Government initiative catering to clients of both English and non-English speaking backgrounds.

The development of training programs funded by WELL will involve consultation with workers, management, unions and educators. Courses will be tailored to the needs of a particular workplace and its workforce, and training will be delivered in the workplace.

For more information on the Workplace English Language and Literacy Program (WELL), contact:

WELL HOTLINE (06) 276 8770 For further information on workplace ESL and Literacy training, contact local: • State Departments of Education • Colleges of Technical and Further Education • Community Education Service • Adult Migrant Education Service or: • Department of Employment, Education and Training • Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs • Department of Industrial Relations

For further information contact the Workplace Equity Unit, Department of Industrial Relations, (06) 243 7349.