Property developer and Gurner Group CEO Tim Gurner admits comments about 'arrogant' workers were 'deeply insensitive'
Multimillionaire property developer and founder and CEO of Gurner Group, Tim Gurner, has responded to widespread criticism of comments he made at a media event in Sydney, in which he called workers "arrogant" and decreasingly productive.
Speaking at the Australian Financial Review Property Summit on Tuesday, Mr Gurner told the audience he wanted to see Australia's unemployment rate "jump 40 to 50 per cent", in order to cause "pain in the economy" and "remind people they work for the employer, not the other way around".
He also claimed tradies had "pulled back on productivity" and had been "paid a lot to do not too much in the last few years".
In a statement on Thursday evening, Mr Gurner said he deeply regretted the remarks, which he said "were wrong".
"There are clearly important conversations to have in this environment of high inflation, pricing pressures on housing and rentals due to a lack of supply, and other cost-of-living issues," he said.
"My comments were deeply insensitive to employees, tradies and families across Australia who are affected by these cost-of-living pressures and job losses.
"I want to be clear: I do appreciate that when someone loses their job it has a profound impact on them and their families and I sincerely regret that my words did not convey empathy for those in that situation."
Mr Gurner's speech at the Property Summit drew fierce criticism from many workers, unions and politicians — including US Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"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," she wrote, after a video of Mr Gurner's comments was shared on social media platform X.
Liberal MP Keith Wolahan told the Australian Financial Review that Mr Gurner's comments were "out of touch".
"The loss of a job is not a number. It sees people on the streets and dependent upon food banks," he said. "Right now families are working multiple jobs just to stay afloat."
The unemployment rate remained at 3.7 per cent in August, as 65,000 people found work and official unemployment fell slightly.
Australian Council of Trade Unions President Michele O'Neil criticised Mr Gurner's comments as "shocking and offensive" during an interview with the ABC's RN Breakfast.
"This is an uber-rich guy who is saying the quiet part out loud … He was basically advocating that you should make working people suffer to bring them under control," she said.
Ms O'Neil called out Mr Gurner's claim that "people decided they didn't really want to work so much any more through COVID", saying that many workers got Australia through the pandemic by working "day and night to keep us safe".
"He was talking about tradies not working hard enough. This is a man who has made his fortune on the back of skilled tradespeople building the properties that he's developed," she said.
Ms O'Neil also pointed to rising CEO salaries and corporate profits.
"The growth we have seen and productivity in Australia in the last decade, the lowest share of it ever, has been shared with working people," she said.
The Australian Financial Review reported on Thursday that a senior manager at Mr Gurner's wellness and anti-ageing network Saint Haven had sought to assure staff that their founders' comments were not directed at them.
"I want to start by saying I've had the pleasure of working with Tim for almost two years now and can hand on heart say that his care and love for both the Gurner Group and Saint Haven team is immense," the manager reportedly said, adding that Mr Gurner's comments "were in no way directed at our teams".
Gurner Group says its development and management portfolio is worth more than $9.5 billion.
Mr Gurner was criticised by many in 2017 when he suggested first homebuyers were struggling to enter the property market because they were "spending $40 a day on smashed avocados and coffee and not working".
"I think the problem with this generation is they want the three-bedroom home in Malvern and Malvern East and Prahran, and Alexandria in Sydney, and it's just not sustainable or realistic," he told 60 Minutes.
Mr Gurner later told the ABC's Raf Epstein that he didn't blame first homebuyers for the housing crisis, but did not back down from his comments.
"It's not about smashed avocado, obviously. This is a much broader issue," he said.
"It's really about this generation, and I don't blame the generation at all — because we're in a much faster society where everything is a lot easier to get, and to spend money."
Mr Gurner said he acquired his first property at around 18 years of age, when his boss offered to purchase a property for him to renovate — before the pair split the profits when it was sold.
Mr Gurner said his grandfather lent him $34,000 a few years later to acquire a bank loan in order to start his own gym, while he was at university.
He said many young people were working hard and saving money, while others were spending too much. He also claimed the media, advertising industry and social media had distorted people's views of what was "aspirational" in life.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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