The Melbourne-based property developer and CEO of Gurner Group told the Australian Financial Review Property Summit that “we need to see pain in the economy”.
He added: “We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around.
“There has been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them as opposed to the other way around.
“We’ve got to kill that attitude and that has to come through hurting the economy.”
He even took a swipe at tradespeople, claiming “they have been paid a lot to do not too much in the last few years”.
Mr Gurner told the audience on Tuesday that there is “definitely massive layoffs going on” and that is reducing “arrogance” in the employment market.
He claimed that workers “decided they didn’t really want to work so much anymore through Covid” and that has impacted productivity.
Gurner Group founder Tim Gurner tells the Financial Review Property Summit workers have become "arrogant" since COVID and "We've got to kill that attitude." https://t.co/lcX3CCxGuj pic.twitter.com/f9HK2YZRRE
— Financial Review (@FinancialReview) September 12, 2023
His comments received widespread backlash including from US Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, unions and politicians.
The Australian Medical Association President Steve Robson said it was a “breathtakingly irresponsible statement”.
“Unemployment is associated with a range of adverse health outcomes including suicide. I say this with some confidence having studied suicide and unemployment,” he wrote on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions said his comments were “shocking and offensive” while Australian Liberal MP Keith Wolahan described him as “out of touch”.
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. https://t.co/MCvsICsZce
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 12, 2023
Mr Gurner released a statement on Thursday saying that he “deeply” regretted them and they were “wrong”, adding that they were “insensitive” to workers.
“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.
“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 themn an their families and I sincerely regret that my words did not convey empathy for those in that situation.”
It’s not the first time Mr Gurner has landed in hot water over controversial comments.
In 2017 he was criticised after claiming on 60 Minutes Australia that first home buyers were struggling to ener the property market because they were “spending $40 (£20) a day on smashed avocados and coffee and not working”.
The developer added: “When I had my first business when I was 19, I was in the gym at 6am in the morning, and I finished at 10.30 at night, and I did it seven days a week, and I did it until I could afford my first home.
“There was no discussions around, could I go out for breakfast, could I go out for dinner. I just worked.”
Gurner Group says its development and management portfolio is worth more than 9.5 billion Australian dollars.