Gurner Group CEO Tim Gurner told the Australian Financial Review’s Property Summit that productivity had plummeted during the global pandemic as “people decided they didn't really want to work so much”.
“We need to see pain in the economy,” Mr Gurner told the summit on Tuesday, taking particular aim at the post-Covid work rates of construction labourers.
“We need to remind people they work for the employer, not the other way around.”
The inflammatory comments quickly went viral on social media as politicians and commentators lined up to condemn the CEO.
“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,” Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted on X.
“This Gurner character personifies everything that is wrong with unfettered capitalism and the cult of the super-CEO: rampant greed and an arrogant contempt for working people,” Australian media commentator Mike Carlton wrote.
On LinkedIn, business leaders were equally indignant.
Spence Rodgers, CEO of Ihm Luxury, wrote that Mr Gurner’s assertion that he would rather “level personal pain on millions of workers in order to keep his own money flowing is the epitome of class warfare”.
“What words could I possibly use to describe someone so incredibly stupid, callous, fragile, and worthless?” Mr Rodgers added.
During the panel discussion, Mr Gurner went on to claim that a “40 to 50 per cent increase” in unemployment would reverse the lingering productivity impact Covid had left on the workforce.
“There’s been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around,” he said.
“We’ve got to kill that attitude and that has to come through hurting the economy.”
Mr Gurner, who has an estimated personal net wealth of US$600m, is no stranger to controversial statements.
In 2017, he told millennials to stop buying “smashed avocados” if they wanted to be able to afford their first home.
The unemployment rate in Australia is 3.6 per cent, or roughly 500,000 people, meaning an estimated 250,000 workers would lose their jobs in a 50 per cent increase.
Mr Gurner’s company has a property and development portfolio valued at US$6.4bn.
The Australian Financial Review pointed out that he got his start in property development with a loan from his grandfather.
The Independent has contacted Gurner Group for comment.
This article was amended on September 15 2023. It originally said that Mr Gurner had called for unemployment to increase to 50 per cent, but that was inaccurate. He called for unemployment to rise by 40-50 per cent.
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