The move ramps up the political debate over workplace relations amid estimates that employers would have to add $8.7 billion a year to their payrolls to meet union demands for a “living” wage.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil will argue on Wednesday that the minimum wage should be increased by 6 per cent this year and more next year, in a controversial plan being rejected by business.
As Prime Minister Scott Morrison attacks Labor on its tax revenue increases, Mr Shorten is seeking to frame the election as a “referendum on wages” that could give Labor a mandate to amend industrial relations law.
Labor has already promised to amend the law to force the Fair Work Commission to reverse cuts to penalty rates and change the rules around enterprise bargaining agreements.
Mr Shorten announced last month that a Labor government would also amend the law to set new guidelines for the commission when deciding the minimum wage, but the new move accelerates that push by seeking changes without waiting for a decision in Parliament.
The reference in the Labor plan to the “first day of government” is understood to refer to the day a new ministry is sworn in, rather than the day after the election.
Mr Shorten’s letter to Mr Ross was co-written by Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor and sets out the case for a significant increase to wages.
The commission set a deadline of March 15 for submissions but would be expected to accept a new submission from the government if a new Prime Minister was elected this Saturday.
The commission has not named a date for its decision but expects the wage changes to apply from July 1, creating a narrow window for the government to act after the election.
Mr Shorten and Mr O’Connor describe their position as an “unprecedented decision” to withdraw an existing government submission to the regulator and put forward a new one.
“If Australians decide against six more years of cuts and chaos from a Morrison government and vote for change, a Shorten Labor government will not delay the pay rise that Australian workers deserve,” they write.
“We want to emphasise that in providing a new submission on behalf of the Australian government it is not our intention to hold up any increase the expert panel may consider making for Australia’s workers on 1 July 2019.”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that the ACTU call for a “living wage” to be set at 60 per cent of the median full-time wage would cost employers $8.7 billion a year.
The chamber estimates about 200,000 workers earn the minimum wage but that any increase would flow through to about 2.3 million Australians who work on awards, leading to the estimate of an $8.7 billion cost to employers.
The national minimum wage is currently $18.93 per hour or $719.20 a week, assuming a working week of 38 hours.
The ACTU is arguing for an increase worth $43 each week this year, to be followed by a second boost worth more than $40 next year.
Mr Morrison argued last week that the election would decide whether the unions would gain power the power to impose “red tape” on employers through their influence over Mr Shorten.
While Mr Morrison did not set out any changes to industrial relations if he retains power, he warned that a Labor government would weaken the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations Commission.
“So this election is very much about not allowing the Labor Party to basically give militant unions of this country a blank cheque and unhindered interference in the Australian economy,” he said in an interview with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.