Amidst a shortage of workers that's led some companies to overhaul their salary budgets and the government to overhaul its approach to the migration of skilled labour, wages across Australia are creeping back up to pre-pandemic levels. Today's latest release by the Bureau of Statistics show that private sector wages crept up by 0.6 percent in the September quarter, with the public sector lagging slightly behind at 0.5 percent.
The year-on-year increase for the private sector was 2.4 percent, and again the public sector lagged - employees there saw a 1.7 percent pay increase since last September. According to the Bureau, these figures are consistent with pre-pandemic growth numbers. The growth is also congruent with other estimates. For instance, Robert Half had estimated earlier this year that up to 70 percent of businesses will increase their offers to new hires, and 32 percent will increase pay for existing staff.
Some sectors are getting bigger pay increases
A few sectors, those that have seen the worst shortages and brain drain, are leading the wage growth. These include professional, scientific, and technical services; healthcare and social assistance; construction; and hospitality and F&B. It's notable that aside from professional, scientific, and technical, the sectors starting to pay more are those that tend to be lower-paid in the first place - and also those which are now having the greatest difficulty getting skilled labour back.
According to ABC News, Michelle Marquardt, ABS head of prices statistics, attributed this to wage pressure in these particular roles, "leading to larger ad hoc rises as businesses looked to retain experienced staff and attract new staff."
State-wise, wage growth for the quarter was highest in Tasmania and ACT, where the skills shortage was acute even before the pandemic.
Alternative ways of retaining workers
Will alternative benefits, like flexibility and hybrid work, help to get workers back once paired with the recovering wage growth? Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe seems to think so; in a speech earlier this week he said that businesses are still focusing on cost control, and so won't raise wages much more than they did pre-pandemic. Instead, he suggested, most businesses are "seeking to use measures other than raising base wages to attract and retain staff."
Research does suggest that that might help, with some surveys suggesting that employees are willing to accept lower pay in exchange for greater flexibility, or that they prioritise good health benefits these days - especially with the pandemic leaving everyone extra-aware of healthcare needs and costs.