It says the Fair Work Commission has admitted that Australia’s minimum wage of $18.93 per hour, ($719.20 per week; $37,398 per annum) leaves many people working full-time in poverty.
Labor announced in March that it wanted to ensure people received a “living wage”. It has said that if the party wins government this weekend, it would give the Fair Work Commission authority to decide what a “living wage” should be – that is, to figure out how high and fast to lift minimum wages.
Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor has said Labor will legislate “so that the commission’s highest priority will be making sure no person working full-time in Australia need live in poverty”.
Ms O’Neil said she would personally argue for the rise in the minimum wage at the Fair Work Commission hearing in Sydney this week.
“Australia should be proud to have been the first nation to establish a living wage, but we need to act now to renew that promise for every worker,” she said. “The minimum wage should not just be enough to stop you starving, it should be enough to provide for a decent life for all full-time workers.”
A spokesman for the union said Ms O’Neil’s appearance was aimed at helping draw a stark contrast between the policies of the Coalition and the Labor Party in terms of achieving a living wage.
Business groups have made varied calls, ranging from a freeze to the minimum wage, to a raise that would keep up with inflation. The Australian Industry Group has called for a two per cent increase.
“Businesses are struggling to cope with high and rising input costs, especially energy costs. Also, productivity growth is weak nationally and in industries with mainly low-wage employees,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox has said. “Inflation remains weak, which means that even a small rise in the minimum wage will deliver a real increase in household spending power.”
The ACTU will argue that Australians living on the minimum wage desperately need a pay rise to help them make ends meet as the cost of living continues to rise faster than wages.
It also said the business lobby’s argument that wages growth hurts the economy is losing favour among economists.
The Business Council of Australia has supported Labor’s move towards a living wage determined by the independent Fair Work Commission.
Up to 180,200 (1.7 per cent) Australian employees are paid at the national minimum wage rate, the Department of Jobs and Small Business estimates. It is not likely any increase would have an automatic knock-on effect for the up to 2.2 million Australians (21 per cent of employees) who are paid award rates, according to federal government figures from May 2018.
The Australian Council of Social Service said last year there were more than 3 million people living below the poverty line, including 739,000 children.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.