Gaslighting over ‘skills shortages’ hits fever pitch

The gaslighting over skills shortages has hit fever pitch with the media and employer groups squealing like stuck pigs.

Echoing recent calls from the NSW Government and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) to double the skilled migrant intake, The AFR View has called on the federal government to “catch up on the immigration lost during the pandemic”:

The tight labour market behind the shut international border is adding to inflationary pressures…

Worker shortages have led to pay rises for white-collar professions at the top end of the labour market, and to delivery driver strikes over pay and conditions at the bottom…

Hence, the return of skilled migrants promises some relief from the cost pressures that have been disproportionately borne by those businesses most affected by Australia’s gilded cage…

Mr Morrison’s plan to bring back foreign workers to fill identified labour market shortages in areas such as health and hospitality is an obvious reopening step…

But this is also the bare minimum needed to restart Australia’s immigration program as soon as possible to support an ongoing post-crisis recovery…

With a lot of Covid-19 debt to pay down, Australia needs to go beyond just making up for skilled shortages or even just catching up on the immigration lost during the pandemic.

The ABC has warned that cafe prices will rise due to the lack of exploitable foreign workers:

Your morning coffee or the next cocktail on a night out could be about to cost you more…

Restaurant and Catering Industry Association chief executive Wes Lambert said people could pay up to 20 per cent more than what they have in the past… [It] estimates there are about 100,000 jobs that are currently vacant…

“We need to get the tourism and hospitality industry fast tracked with special purpose visas … to get us up to a level of workforce so that we can be productive in 2022,” he said.

“We can’t just rely on Australians to fill these positions because the entire system was designed for a seasonal migrant workforce”…

The wages on offer are up to 15 per cent more than usual on most of the positions because staff are in short supply…

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has also joined the chorus:

“We know there is a significant skills shortage here in Australia and we’re doing all that we can to make sure that we put the right structures in place to support these businesses that need workers,” Ms Andrews said…

“When you’ve got unemployment in the fours, you are getting very close to full employment”.

“There is a real sense of urgency across businesses that we need a clear signal from the federal government on how quickly we can open to skilled labour,” [Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew McKellar said].

“[Without foreign workers] it is going to be a handbrake on economic performance for the next 12 months.”

Curiously, the ACCI and other business lobbies made exactly the same skills shortage arguments in 2002 to a Senate Inquiry whereby they complained of “serious skill shortages and skill gaps” in Australia and warned that unless we did something about it – i.e. import a lot of workers – Australia’s economy would not develop and would simply end up going backwards. Below are key extracts from this 2002 inquiry:

“According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), the lack of suitably qualified staff has been a major concern for Australian industry over the past decade, and is one of the most significant barriers to investment…

“The Australian Industry Group (AiG… reports that several of industry sectors, including manufacturing, are continuing to experience serious skill shortages which, unless effectively addressed, may have severe and lasting consequences for Australian enterprises…

“The Business Council of Australia submission points to the risk of future broad-based skill shortages resulting from an ageing population”…

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Despite decades of strong skilled migration, whereby literally millions of foreign workers were imported into Australia, industry and the federal government continue to make identical claims about skills shortages.

How could this possibly be? How could Australia have such dramatic skills shortages after all these years? And why then is Australian wage growth tracking at close to its lowest level in history if skills shortages are so pervasive? Something doesn’t add up.

Hand wringing over Australia’s anaemic wages growth hit fever pitch in the years leading up to the pandemic, with politicians, economists, the Reserve Bank and the media all shedding crocodile tears.

Now that workers finally have the upper hand, and wages pressures are beginning to manifest, the media and government are hell bent on suppressing wages by rebooting mass immigration.

An ‘Australia First’ immigration policy would cut the migrant intake to historical pre-2005 levels and concentrate policy on training and employing locals for jobs.

Sadly, business groups, politicians and the media don’t represent Australians, just the big end of town.

Unconventional Economist
Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)


  1. My God! I will have to spend an additional 80c per day on coffee. That’s $280 per year! Seriously, though, I used to buy a takeaway coffee every day; but, since the lockdown, I make coffee for myself at home and drink it in the local park. If others are doing the same, the aggregate demand for cafe workers might be substantially less than pre-Covid.

    • Even just buying takeaway would assist in reducing “demand” for “skilled” dishwashers n till operators. There’s constant sessions on international students on ABC as well (lamenting a decline in interest). Even Fran Kelly was rabbiting on about the cafe costs this morning.

      • Surely the real issue is that each cafe has FEWER patrons, so they are trying to charge more in order to break even. (Alternatively, fewer cafes are operating, therefore less competition, so they can afford to raise prices.)

      • Even Fran Kelly was rabbiting on about the cafe costs this morning.

        Let me guess, not a single mention of rent costs?

    • I did the maths for us purchasing 2x coffee’s per day @ $4.50 each, then I looked at purchasing a coffee machine and all the inputs (good quality beans, good quality milk, cleaning supplies etc) and worked out purchasing a Breville Oracle for around $2200 would give me an ROI of 10 months. We are now onto our second one, why anyone would want to purchase a coffee each day for that cost is beyond me.

      • We’ve got ours (BES900) bought in 2012. Replaced group-head temperature sensor under warranty, teplaced the plastic OPV (Over Pressure Valve) with a proper brass one (myself), and replaced the brew-circuit vibro-pump (myself again) in all this time. It has never missed a beat and it’s up to about 8000 shots… so, yeah – f**k your skilled baristas!

      • Bravo! I use one of those stove-top Italian coffee makers (~$170) plus a milk-frothing machine (~$60).
        Theoretically, I could afford the $2000 machine, but I don’t have enough bench space in my kitchen.

      • Many ol boomers just turn up to read the papers so I guess its a net $0 cost and if there’s an AFR as well then its a net positive. And if they walk to the cafe, then they’ll live longer in their house.

    • I accidentally quit coffee entirely.
      Noticed after a week that I was sleeping less, feeling less tired and had better focus.
      Go figure.

      Love coffee. My body apparently doesn’t.

  2. If only we had a major political party in Australia who was formed in order to meet the interests of local workers.

  3. I took a closer look at the ABC article. They mention only two businesses. One was a bakery in Byron Bay, which is a very expensive place to live and not within commuting distance of any affordable area. The other guy runs a wine bar in Melbourne and is only able to open 4 days a week. This comment suggests he is more worried about finding customers rather than staff:
    “people are getting behind small businesses and so we’re quite lucky and we just hope people keep coming back”

    • Holiday In ScomodiaMEMBER

      Yep- Pandemic restrictions has given many a renewed taste for the simple pleasures (and extra time WFH without commutes to pursue them)- you can make a nice coffee, or bake great bread at home, or take your online bought boutique wine outdoors with a picnic blanket- many of these overpriced fluff businesses are finished.

  4. “We can’t just rely on Australians to fill these positions because the entire system was designed for a seasonal migrant workforce”…

    No it wasn’t designed for that! What utter garbage! LLLOLOLOLOLOL

  5. Shame on the media that push this supposed skills shortage. About time they do their job and hold the Govt to account.

  6. May appear to be ‘gaslighting’ but it’s not. Look at our population pyramid excluding temporary churn over and we see a thinning out of working age population vs. retirees (UNPD defined NOM churn over of mostly students keeps the 15-64 y.o. cohort fresher).

    However, if you use OECD data it’s clear that Australia has passed peak workforce within the permanent population and like everywhere, is in decline…. but more pressure on employees regarding award conditions and unions, while e.g. the LNP caters more to burgeoning cohort of retirees, while employees in future can expect to pay higher taxes and have fewer services?