“I think the problem that we’ve had is that people decided they didn’t really want to work so much any more through covid, and that has had a massive issue on productivity,” he said. Tradespeople, he said, “have been paid a lot to do not too much in the last few years, and we need to see that change.”
“We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around,” he continued. “There’s been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around. So it’s a dynamic that has to change.”
Those changes had already begun, Gurner said, with “massive layoffs” leading to what he described as “less arrogance in the employment market.”
His remarks drew a scathing response, with one Australian official, Labor MP Jerome Laxale, describing them on X, the platform formally known as Twitter, as “comments you’d associate with a cartoon supervillain, not the ceo of a company in 2023.”
Job losses “mean people on the streets and dependent upon food banks,” Liberal Australian lawmaker Keith Wolahan told Australian media.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also tweeted, in response to a video of Gurner’s comments that circulated online: “Reminder that major CEOs have skyrocketed their own pay so much that the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is now at some of the highest levels *ever* recorded.”
Around the world, including in the United States, the pandemic and its lockdowns reshaped the labor force, upending dynamics between employers and workers.
Companies sought to offer incentives during much of the pandemic to lure people back into the job market from early retirements, family obligations due to lack of child care and other personal decisions.
But most Americans who left the workforce in what was dubbed the “Great Resignation” have since returned, easing labor shortages and reflecting the strain of higher prices. According to a Washington Post analysis, the labor market as a whole regained 75 percent of the 4 million workers who had dropped out of the workforce due to a range of reasons including health concerns, covid illness and death.
Employers also reclaimed more leverage as the pace of job creation largely tempered.
Major companies, including Lyft, Deloitte, Meta and Whole Foods recently announced mass layoffs, with many of them linked to industries that boomed during the pandemic, including tech and financial services.
Despite the return of many workers, some employers are still struggling to hire as jobseekers switch industries. Workplaces that offer remote opportunities have more workers than before the pandemic, while other sectors, such as leisure and hospitality, continue to report shortfalls, The Post has reported.
And while companies experimented with digital perks for workers during the pandemic, tech companies that once supported those who wanted to work from home are now telling them to return to the office.
Government data put Australia’s unemployment rate at 3.7 percent in July, and the Reserve Bank of Australia has said the rate of unemployment would have to rise to 4.5 percent to curb inflation.
Gurner’s suggested increase in Australian unemployment could bring the number of people in the country out of work to over 800,000 people, the Australian Financial Review reported, and it could mean a return to unemployment rates of around 5.5 percent. The last time the country saw that figure or higher was during the throes of the pandemic.
Gurner is no stranger to controversy: He was once lampooned for suggesting that millennials’ difficulties in getting onto the property ladder could be attributed to their love of avocado toast and coffees, telling “60 Minutes Australia” in 2017 that many young people were unlikely to ever own their own homes: “When you’re spending $40 a day on smashed avocado and coffees and not working — of course not, absolutely!”