June 2, 2018

Low economic growth + minimal minimum wage growth = little respite for the working poor.

That’s the cold facts following yesterday’s Fair Work Commission (FWC) announcement of an increase to the minimum wage of 3.5% or $24.32 per week.

TWU (VIC/TAS Branch) Secretary and TWU National Vice-President John Berger said while the increase was a welcome step in the right direction it would fail to lift many thousands of lowly-paid full-time Australian workers above the poverty line.

“We speak with low-paid workers on the ground every day and many of them will still be struggling despite this increase,” John said.

“The rules surrounding the minimum wage – along with the entire industrial system – need to change. When corporate profits rose 40 per cent last year, but full-time workers cannot afford to feed and clothe the family, the system is clearly broken.

“The minimum wage must increase with the rising cost-of-living so people can afford to cover rising costs of housing, quality education, healthcare, electricity, gas, transport, a healthy diet and also unexpected emergency expenses. This announcement will do little to slow down widening income inequality across the nation.

“The Union movement won a Living Wage for all Australians and it is sad to see it being eroded away, we must stand up and fight back against those forces, the companies and politicians with neo-liberal policies, causing the erosion to ensure a fairer collective bargaining system. Millions of Australians will benefit from this increase because the Union movment fought for it – and we are just getting started.”

An ACTU analysis of Australian Bureau of statistics released late last year showed the cost of living was getting more expensive and wages were not keeping up. It showed the price of electricity had increased 539 per cent faster than inflation over the past year compared to the rate of inflation while other essential expenses such as gas grew 356 per cent above inflation, childcare (161 per cent), utilities (394 per cent), health 117 (per cent), housing (83 per cent), education 74 per cent and transport (50 per cent).

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus also welcomed the FWC announcement but said the minimum wage should be pegged at 60% of the median wage – a level set by the OECD to ensure every full-time worker in Australia can survive on their wage. 

“People who have been forced into poverty by the inadequacy of this wage should not have to wait every year to see if they will be saved by the Fair Work Commission,” she said.

“Rising income and wealth inequality is the challenge of our time. Tackling inequality will help resolve many of the fundamental economic and social problems we currently confront.

“It is time to live up to the promises of the Harvester judgment and restore a minimum wage that is ‘fair and reasonable’ and sufficient to provide a standard of living that is suitable for a contemporary human being living in a civilized community.”

The 1907 Harvester Judgement established a world-first living wage in Australia that restored wages to a level that helped families meet their household budgets.

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