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Experts debate how to manage Australia's $1 trillion superannuation saving

24 Oct 2011

There are over $1 trillion dollars of accumulated Australian workers savings held in superannuation funds. These funds are considered labour's capital, and it gives those who manage those funds enormous potency in the capital market. But there are many ambiguities around whether managing these savings is in the long term interests of the workers who contribute.

These issues and superannuation's role in nation building will be examined at the second annual Managing Labour's Capital in Australia Conference presented by The Australian Working Group on Financialisation (AWGF) at the University of Sydney Business School on Monday 24 October.

The Hon Susan Ryan AO, (Age Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission) will give the opening address at the conference and international labour expert, Dr Larry Beeferman, of Harvard University will give the keynote presentation. The conference will also cover superannuation's role in promoting and protecting labour rights and life course risk management.

Convenor of the conference, Dr Michael Rafferty, a senior researcher at the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney Business School says much has been made of the potential and actual benefits to the 'economy' and 'nation' of this savings pool. But he questions whether the utilization of this pool has led to positive changes for workers and to a more equitable society.

"Superannuation gives workers a direct interest in the profitability of industry. We know also that, through notions such as shareholder value, financial markets have driven an intensified cost focus onto businesses, with implications for job security, wages and working conditions," he said. "Questions exist around whether those who manage labour's capital should be concerned with the working conditions and standards of labour in production.

"There are other significant questions that have to be addressed for the future of this industry. For example, does the presence of worker representatives on superannuation trustee boards affect the way financial decisions are made? Or is the raison d'être of industry super funds purely to secure lower fees and better returns? There will be much debate around these issues at the conference."