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Free at last!… Add your voice… Coalition’s wake-up… Labor’s AWA promise… Engage your workers… Victoria’s red-tape mountain… Costello backs ACCC… Inflation expectations… Wage rises slow… Economy roundup…

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Hey! Big news. We’re free

It’s a big day at SmartCompany.

First, we would like to proudly announce to our loyal and fast-growing community that you can now access all our content for free!

This in fact was always our goal: to provide the entrepreneurial community of Australia rich, deep – and free – content to help you grow bigger better businesses, create jobs, innovation and wealth, especially as other business information providers charge an arm and a leg!

But we never thought we could build a sustainable business on this basis. Fortunately, we are now in the position of having enough advertising support to do so!

So while we work slavishly to bring you the best news, trends, blogs and big stories every week day, can we beg a small favour? Please spread the word about SmartCompany.com.au through every network, to every friend and contact. And keep your feedback coming!

– Amanda Gome

At last! Entrepreneurs have a voice

Another passion of SmartCompany is to provide a much louder voice for small and medium business owners. For too long they have not had much of a say in the political arena, on red tape, on regulation and many other aspects that affect their businesses and lives.

Today we launch of the inaugural SME Opinion Leaders survey. The survey is being done in conjunction with Roy Morgan Research and Dun & Bradstreet. Rich qualitative research will be regularly undertaken on the matters that affect you. We will also do quick snappy polls on breaking news.

To have your voice heard, email [email protected] and we will add your email. Also if you want to know what your community thinks on a topic, send in a question.

The polls take a few minutes and are confidential so add your voice.

– Amanda Gome

Wake-up call to Coalition

If the Coalition thinks the entrepreneurial sector is its natural constituency, it can think again.

The inaugural SmartCompany poll of SME Opinion Leaders, done in conjunction with Roy Morgan Research and Dun & Bradstreet, shows just more than half (57%) would vote for the Coalition.

“However when asked who they think will win the next election, they are evenly divided, with 43% believing the Labor Party will win and 42% believing that the Coalition will win,” says Gary Morgan.

Of the 396 SME operators that were surveyed, 57% said they would vote for the Coalition, 28% would vote for Labor, and 5% for the Greens. Meanwhile the Democrats, Family First and Independents each get 1%. (Five percent of SMEs still can’t say and 2% would not.)

At the Melbourne Press Club yesterday, Labor’s business adviser Rod Eddington told Labor to target small business. “Many of the people who create wealth in this country employ 10, 20 or 30 people,” he said. What is important is that he [Kevin Rudd] consults the people who make payroll.”

Good advice and let’s hope the Coalition is also listening.

– Amanda Gome

Existing AWAs won’t be cancelled: Labor

Business groups have welcomed Labor’s commitment to allow existing AWAs to continue operating until their agreed expiry date, but say its prohibition on new AWAs will leave employers struggling to administer two different types of employment instruments in the one workplace.

Opposition IR spokeswoman and deputy leader Julia Gillard says a Labor government would allow AWAs lodged before new IR legislation is introduced next year to continue to operate. This means an AWA entered into early next year for the maximum five year period would continue to apply until 2013.

But Labor is still considering giving employees the opportunity to terminate their AWAs early, Gillard says.

Business groups this morning questioned whether Labor’s “half-way” commitment to AWAs would make increase the burden on businesses forced to different employment instruments for old and new employees.

The executive director of the National Retail Association, Patrick McKendry, says if implemented Labor’s policy could “add to the administrative burden and create complications for business”.

“Labor needs to come out and say this is something definitive because otherwise you will have all sorts of awards in the workplace. It is great that they have started to recognise that AWAs are valid but there is a lot more work to be done,” McKendry says.

– Mike Preston

Are your workers engaged?

Australian employers are putting their productivity at risk by failing to motivate employees.

A study by HR consultancy Right Management, which looked at 16,000 employees globally, found that 62% of Australians are disengaged at work; that is, they are neither engaged nor like where they work. This compared with 70% of their British counterparts and 57% of those in the US. Right Management’s chief executive, Bridget Beattie, says there is a direct link between employee engagement and business performance.

“Research has consistently shown that employee engagement is powerfully linked to business results such as revenue, productivity, and staff retention,” she says. A disengaged employee is more likely to want to leave.

But there is an upside to high staff turnover. Employees who have worked at their organisation for less than a year show the highest engagement score (47%), which drops to 36% between one and two years. After more than 10 years, the score slumps to 32%.

Manufacturing industries had particularly low engagement scores. Motivated industries include recreation, cultural and sporting activities (53%) and not-for-profit organisations.

Just over a third (36%) of Australian workers are stars: employees who are connected to their job and feel the organisation is a great place to work.

Older workers were found to be more committed to their organisation’s values and to stay in the job longer. However as retirement looms, engagement levels plummet with just 30% of the 50–65 age group engaged compared to 39% for those in their late 30s and 40s.

– Amanda Gome

Victorian SMEs buried in red tape mountain

Victorian businesses are languishing under a mountain of red tape imposed through 32,000 pages of legislation and administered by 72 separate government bodies with a cost to the state of more than $2 billion, according to a report by the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission.

The Victorian Regulatory System 2007 report shows that cost of administering new and remade regulations in 2005-06 was more than $2 billion, although much of that cost resulted from the introduction of revised building industry regulations in early 2005.

New regulations created by the Victorian Government in 2005-06 will cost businesses and individuals $280 million over an estimated 10-year period of operation, the reports finds.

Red tape in Victoria increased by 4.8% in 2006 after a similar increase in 2005, the report finds. It says improving regulatory performance remains a major challenge for Victorian regulators, with substantial gaps remaining in the performance measurement and reporting framework.

– Mike Preston

Costello backs ACCC on broadband

Treasurer Peter Costello has defended Australia’s competition regulator against Telstra’s increasingly strident campaign to approve its secret broadband proposal.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a company in Australia engage in the kind of attacks that Telstra is currently engaging in upon an independent statutory regulator,” Costello says. “I think the management of Telstra has got to acquaint itself better with Australia and Australian conditions. In Australia we don’t attack people who are independently doing their duty in the way that Telstra has chosen to. And I can’t for the life of me see how it is going to help Telstra.”

Telstra’s chief attack dog, managing director of public policy & communications Phil Burgess, has not missed an opportunity to label the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a “rogue agency” this week. The extraordinary attack follows a national advertising campaign by Telstra urging the ACCC to capitulate and approve its broadband plan, which is rumoured to involve charges close to twice current rates.

– Mike Preston

Inflation will rise: consumers

Consumers expect Australia’s annual inflation rate to hit 4.4% in May 2007, well above the 2.4% CPI rate measured in late April and outside the Reserve Bank’s target bank of 2–3%.

The results, from the Melbourne Institute consumer inflationary expectations survey for May, suggest a divide between what people are experiencing in the economy and official economic data.

Just 14.2% of those surveyed expect inflation to remain within the RBA’s target band in the months to come, down from 18.3% in April.

The survey found consumers expect inflation to rise most quickly in Queensland, at 6.3%, followed by New South Wales on 4.8% and Victoria on 4.6%. South Australia has the lowest expected inflation rate at 3.2%.

– Mike Preston

Slow wage growth continues to surprise

Wage growth is proceeding at a moderate pace despite Australia’s very low unemployment levels, according to new data released today.

The Melbourne Institute quarterly wages survey shows total wages increased 3.7% in the year to May 2007, while basic wages increased slightly more quickly at 4.3%.

Workers on individual contracts achieved the biggest total annual pay increase of 6.8%, ahead of workers on enterprise agreements on 3.4% and those on awards with 2.6%.

This surprising benign view of wage levels in Australia is also supported by Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released today, which show average weekly ordinary time earnings figures for February growing at an even slower annual rate of 3.5%.

The figures show “surprisingly well-contained wages growth in the face of a remarkably tight labour market and widespread reports of skills shortages”, ANZ economist Riki Polygenis says

– Mike Preston

Economy round up

At 12.40 pm the ASX/S&P 200 was up 0.6% to 6329.9. The Australian dollar had dropped significantly off the back of today’s moderate wage data, down from yesterday’s close of US83.12¢ to be US82.61¢ at 12.45 pm.

– Mike Preston

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