Save our skills for young and old

A WA CEO has called out the State Government on its proposal to change the payroll tax exemption, calling it short-sighted and predicting it will have an impact on the training of workers across all age groups.

High Energy Service Pty Ltd CEO Claire Ireland says individual workers will suffer most from the McGowan Government’s plan to remove the exemption for all existing employees on traineeships and restrict it to new employees earning less than $100,000.

Ms Ireland, who has led the high-voltage maintenance company for just two months, says she has a 64-year-old employee who doesn’t want to retire and who has signed a traineeship agreement with the company and the State Government.

However, with the proposed changes set to be backdated to December 1 last year, Ms Ireland says High Energy Service will bear the cost of retraining the woman if the proposal passes the Upper House.

“I find it abhorrent that they (the government) can pull out of the contract,” Ms Ireland said.

Studies show that older workers are most at risk of losing their jobs to automation and AI if they are not supported by constant upskilling.

“It’s the individuals, at the end of the day, who are going to miss out on being trained,” Ms Ireland says.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA has launched a Save Our Skills campaign to fight the proposed exemption removal, describing it as flawed policy that leaves businesses to do the heavy lifting on upskilling and reskilling the WA workforce.

Ms Ireland says her own promotion to CEO was thanks, in part, to her ability to undertake a leadership and management traineeship through the very scheme that is set to be axed.

She fears her apprentices who will also suffer.

“I have apprentices on $16 an hour but because they do 14-hour days on three-week rotations, as FIFO workers away from their families, their wage comes in at over $100,000 – including super,” Ms Ireland says.

Ms Ireland was one of a number of CEOs who took part in a recent CCIWA industry roundtable discussion about the effects of the proposed changes.

CCIWA Chief Executive Officer Chris Rodwell says the Government was elected with a promise of having a plan for jobs.

“This decision will destroy them because business won’t have the support to upskill,” Mr Rodwell says.

“If training numbers continue to decline, we will see skills shortages in the very near future.”

CCIWA Chief Economist Rick Newnham says that with youth unemployment in WA at a new low, the decision to remove the opportunities for businesses to upskill apprenticeships is flawed.

“If the Government was really concerned about the already declining state of training in WA, it wouldn’t be making policy on the run and leaving businesses with no detail about what their proposed grants scheme will look like,” Mr Newnham says.

CCIWA is calling on the Upper House to block the Government’s payroll tax exemption changes.

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