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Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers

CAMPBELL, Dr Emma, Chief Executive Officer, Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia

GUERRA, Ms Carmel, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Multicultural Youth

IMTOUAL, Dr Alia, Director, Policy, Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia

CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I invite each of you to make a short opening statement and we'll ask some questions after that.

Dr Campbell : Yes.

Ms Guerra : Yes.

Dr Campbell : I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands where we respectively sit today and honour their elders past, present and emerging. I think most of you are familiar with the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia. We're the national peak body representing Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse communities and their organisations.

As of 30 June 2016, 28.5 per cent of the Australian population was born overseas and nearly 50 per cent of Australians had one or more parents born overseas. Australia's economy and future prosperity are heavily reliant on the skills that migrants bring to this country through the temporary and permanent migration streams, and our migration system is designed to attract appropriate skills for the needs of Australia's economy. This is reflected in the figure that 65 per cent of recent migrants held tertiary qualifications before arriving in Australia and many more obtained tertiary qualifications after arriving in Australia. Migrants with Australian citizenship have an unemployment rate of 3.3 per cent versus 5.4 per cent for people born in Australia.

So I think it's clear that a significant part of the discussion relating to the future of work and workers in Australia must include immigration policy and also policy to ensure migrants are fully included in Australian society and have equal opportunity to progress. I think we need to pay attention to legislation that is currently before the parliament—for example, the social services legislation amendment encouraging migrant self-sufficiency, which is extending the waiting period for migrants to access welfare payments, which does not help to welcome and include skilled migrants who we have invited to become permanent residents in Australia, and also, of course, the ever-pending changes to citizenship legislation.

On the issue of inclusion, whilst the story of migration, and particularly skilled migration, is generally a very positive one, some individuals and communities of CALD background do have greater challenges in securing employment and certainly in reaching senior levels or finding employment that matches their skills, for reasons such as the challenges in obtaining recognition of skills and qualifications earned overseas; English-language proficiency; experiences of discrimination, prejudice or racism; lack of networks in seeking and securing employment; lack of familiarity with the Australian workforce, employment systems and culture; and premigration experience, including experiences of torture and trauma.

I also want to take this opportunity to talk particularly about the aged-care workforce and social assistance sector, which is predicted to be the strongest-growing industry in the Australian workforce. The aged-care workforce is increasingly drawing on migrant labour, and the diversity of the aged-care workforce is reflected in the 2016 National aged care workforce census and survey report. That states that up to 40 per cent of recent hires are of people born overseas. It's also very important that we have a secure, steady and sustainable bilingual and bicultural aged-care and social services workforce in order to meet the needs of older CALD Australians and other CALD Australians who need supports in the disability or other social services space. So, when thinking about the future of work and workforce in Australia, we need to bear in mind not only the need to support migrants coming here to fill skill shortages and jobs but also finding the right staff both within Australia and overseas to meet the needs of older Australians of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Ms Guerra : The Centre for Multicultural Youth is a Victorian based organisation, and our role is very much about supporting young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds to find their place in the Australian community. The issue of the future of work in Australia is at the forefront of the work we do. I won't go over the issues that are raised in our paper, but I endorse some of the comments by FECCA in relation to what we already know about the diversity of Australia, the changing landscape and the strengths that that brings as well as the challenges. I want to focus on the situation of young people and what that means. Very much they are at the forefront now with the changes in the workforce, where we have the extremities of young people who are culturally diverse, bilingual, with new skills, leading major entrepreneurial ventures as well as business but also bearing the brunt of large-scale unemployment. So I think there is an issue to address about what the future of work's going to be. All the forecasting that's been done about the future of Australia that we know about indicates that close to one in two Australians over the next 20 years will be of a non-English-speaking background, and therefore our workforce will be more bilingual and bicultural than ever before. So what does that mean, and what are the kinds of issues that we need to consider?

I wanted to raise just a couple of points. One is that I think that a lot of these communities and young people have too much seemed to be a deficit to the community, and we really need to acknowledge the skills, strengths and qualities that they could bring to the future of work to counter some of that negativity, as bilingualism or multilingualism becomes the norm and the growing, changing youth population is much more global, digitally savvy and all the things that we're looking for.

The other point is that there are a couple of issues in relation to the skills authorities looking at the kinds of courses that are being offered to young people and seeing whether those courses are actually aligning with the changes in the skills—looking at things like meaningful work placement and identifying networks for young people who don't have those networks in Australia to organise them. The other thing that has been raised is some of the support services that exist for young people who might be unemployed not being targeted or essential for them to find or navigate their way in the workplace.

Finally, I want to raise three big-picture issues that I think are worth considering. One that has been spoken about at length but that I think this committee also needs to consider is how we are going to transform the school-to-work process. I heard the earlier speaker talk about the need for greater emphasis on technical skills, but we are also very concerned about the need for critical thinking and creativity skills, as many young people of the future are going to have between 15 and 20 jobs. So what does that mean? What are the job skills that we're going to be looking for in the future? What is the role of government in forming that and bringing industry and education people together to do it? How do we put greater emphasis on the value of bilingual and multilingual skills being the key to the future and utilising what Australia has?

The whole concept of internships and apprenticeships is one that many of the hundreds of young people we've worked with, and some of our research, indicate is a way of the future, but it should be framed around payment and meaningful work. This generation of young people is not like former generations, caught up in the view that they have to be in the same job forever. There is an openness to acquiring new skills and being prepared for those challenges.

Finally, I also note that we are going to have to have people to support young people of the future to navigate their way through this new world. We can't just assume it's going to happen. We need to think about education, careers, employment and industry helping young people to find their way in that new world order.

I might leave it there.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I want to open with a question about skills recognition. You raised the point, Dr Campbell, that a lot of migrants find that their skills aren't recognised when they arrive in Australia. Some of that, I would imagine, may be appropriate, but have you come across cases where you just find it's kind of nonsensical that somebody has a perfectly transferable qualification that, for some reason, simply isn't recognised in Australia?

Dr Campbell : I think there are two areas where we think there are challenges around skills recognition. The first is, of course, recognition by professional bodies of equivalent professional qualifications in other countries for medicine, veterinary science and so on. It's difficult for FECCA to make judgements, because we are not experts in the medical field, but there do seem to be some anomalies. For example, you may have one country having skills recognised from a certain date, but then people who achieved that skill prior to that date still won't be recognised, and they might already be in Australia. It doesn't make any sense to us. Veterinarians are one example with some countries.

The other big challenge we have—and this is around the education of employers—is the recognition by employers of prior experience, degrees and so on from overseas universities. That is where we see a lot of challenges. Employers don't understand the quality of overseas universities. They don't understand that the University of Delhi is a very respected international institution. They don't understand that, if you've worked as an administrator or particularly in something non-technical—in recruitment—in Hong Kong or somewhere in the Middle East, you've got the same skills as someone who's done that kind of work in Australia. We see that as the biggest barrier. We are concerned that professional bodies use skills recognition as a way of controlling the number of people who can engage in their industry. I think that, certainly, they need to be challenged to justify the reasons for non-recognition of skills from quite a number of countries.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Do you have any information on the metrics of how many people we lose out on accessing the skills of in a timely fashion because of that gatekeeping?

Dr Campbell : I don't, but we can certainly see if we can get that.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: If you could, that'd be interesting. What we're talking about, Dr Campbell, is a bit of prejudice made acceptable through a professional lens. I'd love to know how much that's costing us in skilled folks within the economy. Can I take you to page 14 of your submission, where you make a pretty interesting observation around something that could facilitate youth employment, particularly in rural and regional areas, around young people being supported to obtain a driver's licence by the time they leave school to assist them in accessing employment and apprenticeships. Could you expand on that a bit, because I found that a pretty interesting suggestion?

Dr Imtoual : On page 14, did you say?

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Sorry, page 10 of your submission—it's page 14 of my packet.

Dr Campbell : I'll start. I think access to driver's licences is quite a common problem in a number of communities. It's extremely expensive. We've also heard some comments around possible racism and discrimination towards certain communities in the driving test—this might be perceived, but it's certainly felt—such as the idea that maybe young women of African heritage are less likely to pass their test with the same skills. These kinds of biases are really important to challenge and investigate. But it's the cost of a driver's licence, and whether or not parents can assist their children in obtaining driver's licences—migrant families face a lot of financial challenges, working long hours and so on. It can be a big challenge. Without a driver's licence, it's often very difficult to get employment.

Ms Guerra : Our experience in Victoria has shown that a lot of new arrival communities in particular or those who live in the outer metropolitan areas, not just rural areas, don't have the same access to people to help them drive—so if you have a parent who doesn't have a car or more than one car and doesn't have the experience to drive. In the Victorian context—I think it's different in other states—you have to get a certain amount of hours of practice. That is very difficult to get. There are some really good models that have been set up, that people like the TAC and the local government have now started to fund, where they have volunteers who agree to take young people to get their hours up and practise. That helps them get that job, which I think is really important because public transport does not enable you to get to most places of work.

CHAIR: Can I just clarify: what you're saying is that the extra burden that young people from a CALD background have, which is different for those from a non-CALD background, is that more often their parents don't have a car or a licence?

Ms Guerra : Yes, or, if they do, they might also have large families, so there isn't the capacity or capability to take the child on their hours of practice if the car's being used for other purposes, and they may not have the financial means to pay for formal lessons and don't have the social networks. In my family, I took my niece and my nephew. That doesn't happen in a lot of those families, not because they don't want to, but they don't have either the resources or the connections to do it. There are a lot of community based programs that are trying to help with that now, which I think is the way out.

Dr Campbell : But the impact can also be greater because many migrant communities live further out and also, for a number of reasons, they find themselves in perhaps lower skilled work that requires a driver's licence, has longer hours and so on, so it's a double challenge. Alia, do you have something to add?

Dr Imtoual : Just that to emphasise that this discussion's really important because often having a driver's licence is a requirement of the job that the young person is applying for—or the apprenticeship or training program—so without a driver's licence none of the other steps can be taken. We would see assisting young people to achieve their driver's licence to be a very small investment which would have a huge positive flow-on effect in assisting young people to enter the workforce and to be able to seek sustainable and long-term employment.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Fantastic. Just finally, we've heard as a committee quite consistently that we do a very poor job of equipping young people generally with the information they need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities as workers as they enter the workforce. Reading through your submissions, I think that there's a more enhanced challenge in that space around CALD communities. I wondered if any of you wanted to expand on the ways in which we could ensure we give young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds more opportunities to understand their rights and responsibilities, and the safety nets that are in place.

Ms Guerra : I might start, and then my colleagues can pick up. I think we probably need to start from the premise that a lot of the young people from these communities are often grateful to have a job, so therefore they don't have the same notion as maybe Australian-born young people—that you have rights as well as responsibilities in work. And I don't think the education system in itself prepares young people for understanding the world of work generally, and often we also need to educate the parents because the parents may not understand the rights of work. Often, a lot of the young people we work with tell us what's going on. They've told their parents and their parents say not to do anything about it because they'll lose their job. That happens for a lot of Anglo-Australian born young people that we work with. But with the communities we work with it's really profound because, particularly for many of them who are in very disadvantaged communities and need the income, they'll take any job even if it is one that is detrimental to their health or they're not getting paid properly.

I think the challenge is probably multifold. One challenge is to educate the young people. The second is to educate the families that it is their right, and then the third is to do more work around employers and get industry to get better at identifying those unscrupulous employers—generally, I think employers look after young people quite well. But we need to nut out those ones that aren't and that are actually making it difficult for the rest of the young people.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Dr Campbell : Alia, do you have any more?

Dr Imtoual : I'd just like to say that the Fair Work Ombudsman has been very proactive in working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in order to increase awareness and understanding of Australian workplace regulations, rights and responsibilities as well as complaints mechanisms. We would encourage and support the continuation of the Fair Work Ombudsman's office to continue that outreach. I also think it's really important to say that for many CALD communities there is great fear around making complaints to do with employment or any kind of government interaction, because there can sometimes be misunderstandings about making complaints and how that will impact on your visa status or your right to be in Australia. I think it's very important that information is distributed to culturally and linguistically diverse young people and their families around rights and responsibilities in the workplace and the ability to make complaints when things are not correct or not just—to reassure these communities that making complaints will not affect their immigration status or their ability to bring family members to Australia from overseas, and that there is a very distinct and clear difference between immigration status and the ability to make complaints about workplace injustices.

Dr Campbell : And that view will only increase as the powers to cancel visas on the grounds of character grow under this government.

Senator PATRICK: I want to go to a couple of points in your submission, Dr Campbell, one of them relating to entrepreneurs and the suggestion that, in actual fact, migrants can dominate in that space. But you then went on to say that it's hard—I kind of like the idea that it's hard. Can you elaborate more around that? It almost seemed like a really good part of your submission, that migrants are taking on the entrepreneurial role in our community.

Dr Campbell : In general, we think that migrants' contribution to the Australian economy and the Australian workforce is good. The purpose of this submission is to highlight some of the challenges they face, but it's generally a good story, and it's the same in the space of setting up small businesses. Migrants are incredibly entrepreneurial. We know that one-third of small businesses are run by migrants and refugees. Generally, they're run according to the law and very successfully. The CGU report suggests that they're more likely to invest, more optimistic about the future, more likely to train the staff that they employ compared to Australian-born small-business owners and so on.

I guess the point of our submission, some of the things that we're talking about here, is to highlight the challenges. Some migrants find themselves working as entrepreneurs not because they necessarily want to but because they can't find work that matches their skills or where their skills are recognised. We want people to become entrepreneurs or set up their own businesses because they're excited, they're driven to do that by the opportunity and the risk-return reward and so on. The other challenge is around ensuring that small-business owners of migrant background have information as to the rules and regulations around running small businesses in ways that they can access in a language that they are comfortable with, so that they don't find themselves moving into the informal economy and so that they're supported in treating their staff well. We would like to see some more investment in that side of the small-business migrant story.

Senator PATRICK: What are the typical businesses that we find migrants setting up?

Dr Campbell : I think they are as diverse as the small businesses that Australian-born individuals establish, although I guess there may be opportunities to set up businesses that serve the communities from which they come, because the skills that they bring are augmented by their ability, their language, their cultural understanding and so on. You may be an optician and the Vietnamese community, as well as the general community, like dealing with you because you can communicate with them in Vietnamese and so on and so forth.

Senator PATRICK: You talk about the black economy in your submission, and I'm going to link that with testimony we had from some of the rideshare companies and food delivery companies. The committee took testimony that a lot of the people involved in those particular industries are migrants. I think there are certainly some on the committee who have the view that there's a significant amount of exploitation going on in that space. With people not being paid super and people not being afforded workers' compensation, it's a pretty tough gig. Noting that you represent a group that may well be affected, or may well be involved in those activities, can you shed any light on difficulties in that area for your constituent base?

Dr Imtoual : I think it's important to distinguish between the informal economy and insecure work. Insecure work is where overwhelmingly members of culturally and linguistically diverse communities find themselves working with some of the barriers that we've already mentioned. Insecure work is often very low paid, it's unsustainable and it's frequently dangerous, but it's not necessarily part of the informal economy. The 'informal economy' is, I suppose, an alternative term to the 'black economy' or 'illegal practices'. I don't think there's evidence that suggests that culturally and linguistically diverse communities are more likely to engage in work in the black economy. But I do think that there are some particular reasons why members of CALD communities may find themselves operating within the informal economy. Some of those reasons may be some of the barriers that we've already discussed—so not understanding the rules, rights and responsibilities of being an employee or an employer in the Australian situation. Perhaps also there is a desperation to support their families and, when they face considerable challenges in finding employment within the formal economy, some individuals may feel that they have no other option but to accept conditions when they find themselves in the informal economy. I think any support that the government and service providers can give to CALD communities in order to increase awareness of Australian workplace rights and responsibilities would assist with that.

Changes to some of the pathways to secure employment around degree recognition or qualification recognition—many of the things that we've already discussed today—will assist culturally and linguistically diverse communities to avoid falling into the informal economy. But I do think—

Senator PATRICK: I want to be clear that I wasn't suggesting in any way that they were perpetrators but rather that they were victims. I am curious as to whether or not you had had feedback from these victims.

Dr Campbell : There is a crossover between the informal economy and the black economy. Particularly people on visas where there are restrictions around work find themselves being underpaid. They may have made decisions based on the minimum wage and find themselves underpaid. They then find themselves having to work longer. They realise that they have breached their visa conditions. Maybe an employer highlights it to them and suggests that, if they don't continue to work in a particular way, they'll be reported. That kind of situation can happen. But, in general, for a lot of the reasons we have spoken about, migrants find themselves in these types of work that are lower paid and insecure and where there is a lot of exploitation—the things we talked about—and they don't report that. They are perhaps not active in unions in the way that more established communities are part of organised labour movements. Penalty rates have been cut. So they are often at the receiving end of these shifts and changes in the workforce. But migrants are extremely hardworking and resilient. They just get on with it. That's why organisations like ours, which have a voice, can speak on their behalf.

CHAIR: One issue that I don't think we have had a lot from you on is the particular needs around training courses for young CALD people. I am just interested in hearing a little bit more about that. You have each mentioned it in your submissions. What in particular needs to change in our training system to equip young people—or older people—from a CALD background?

Ms Guerra : A lot of the anecdotal evidence we are picking up on is that the shift to—and now we are hoping there will be a shift away from it—for-profit providers in the education system and training system has led to courses being developed where maybe there is a financial gain, if I can be so bold, as opposed to what possibly industry and the future of work could look like. So I don't believe there has been enough analysis of the connection between industry needs, skills for the future and skill links to jobs. I think that this generation of 20- to 30-year-olds is probably the most highly trained and has been through more courses than any other generation before them, but yet we still have some of the highest youth unemployment. So something is not right in the skills we are teaching young people. Firstly, there needs to be work on acknowledging the skills that many of our culturally diverse communities inherently have because of their ability to navigate a world where bilingualism or multilingualism are a part of it. I think those kinds of things need to be embedded in training. Secondly, there are the issues around the critical thinking and problem-solving that we talked about earlier, those generalist skills. I think we've gone so highly technical that we've lost those skills or a lot of courses have not been linked to technical, critical and digital skills, with those coming together. So I think there needs to be new thinking about, 'What are the skills you need for the jobs of the future?' That is opposed to what I think we are doing, which is training people for jobs that no longer exist for young people.

Dr Campbell : We don't focus as much on youth services as Carmel, but I think, in general, training needs to shift to recognise the increasing diversity of Australia. It's not just that we need particular courses for CALD young people; we need cultural competency in our workforce and our senior management so that they change their attitudes and understand better the diversity of the workforce. We need to train all Australians, no matter their background, to be culturally competent so that in whatever work they find themselves they have the capacity to work with a very diverse consumer base, workforce and so on. It's not just about how we can help or better train CALD; it's how we can train a whole workforce to be more effective in this increasingly diverse and multicultural Australia. Alia, do you have anything else?

Dr Imtoual : No, however, I agree with both of those comments.

CHAIR: I haven't had much of a chance to look at your written submissions in detail, but is there anything in there or anything you know about the proportion of people from a CALD background who are in insecure work? Intuitively, I would imagine the proportions would be higher, but do we have any evidence of that?

Dr Imtoual : In the FECCA submission, we actually highlight that it's very difficult for us to have quantitative evidence because the quantitative data has not been collected. We would call on the government to resource better the collection of statistics around who's in certain kinds of work, including their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, so that we have some quantitative data to back up the anecdotal and consultative data that we collect.

Dr Campbell : The ACTU say 40 per cent of workers are engaged in insecure work, and we would suggest that quite a large proportion of those would be of CALD backgrounds, given the nature of the work that tends to be insecure.

Ms Guerra : I think the other issue that emerges out of that is, if I could stress that point, that the under-30 generation from our experience know nothing other than insecure work. I think there is a piece of work to do around: if that's the future of work, how do we prepare that generation; and how do we prepare society and the support mechanisms around people so the issue of housing affordability becomes crucial? That generation is saying that they will never be able to buy a house because their work is and will be insecure for the rest of their life. We're seeing a lot of the young people that we work with, and I think that that 40 per cent figure would be much, much higher in the kind of work that they're doing.

Dr Imtoual : Can I add one thing. It's also really important to talk about the impact of insecure work on older migrant Australians. There's a direct correlation between having spent considerable periods of time in insecure work at lower wages and their ablity to accumulate superannuation. This means that we have large numbers of older CALD Australians facing many years of financial hardship even though they've worked very hard all their lives; however, because of the kind of work open to them, they have not been able to accumulate sufficient superannuation in order to live comfortably in their older years. This is one of the reasons why we're so concerned about the further restrictions to the age pension for migrant Australians, because these are people who are already extremely vulnerable because they've come to Australia to work, to contribute to the economy. The vast majority have done that but, because of some structural issues and barriers, they've not been able to provide for themselves comfortably in their post-retirement years. I think the numbers of CALD Australians in insecure work has some very serious impacts on young people but it also has some very serious impacts for older CALD Australians.

CHAIR: Great; thanks for that. Unless anyone's got any other questions, we might wrap it up there. Thank you for bringing a very different perspective to the issues we've heard about from other witnesses. Thanks.