ACCI’s chief executive James Pearson said employers were “very worried about their capacity to keep people on with less or in some cases no money at all flowing through the door”.
The government will release a bundle of economic statistics on June 3 showing how the economy has coped with the bushfires and coronavirus over the first quarter of this year and Mr Pearson the commission should wait until that data is out before any decision is made.
While the wage review is usually already decided by early June, the Australian Industry Group’s chief executive Innes Willox said interested parties should be allowed to give their views of any wage increase after the economic data comes through.
As a result, he said, the wage decision should have an “operative date” of no earlier than July 15, about two weeks later than normal.
“Without taking into account these figures [released in June] the Commission would be taking unnecessary, very significant risks if a wage increase is awarded,” Mr Willox said.
Fair Work Commission president Ross has already extended the deadline for submissions to the review process by a week to Friday to give interested parties more time to understand what impact the bushfires have had and forecast how hard the coronavirus will hit.
Small business lobby boss Peter Strong said that while he wanted to be able to support a wage rise for the poorest and would like those on welfare to be given more, small business couldn’t afford an increase in the minimum wage.
In 2009, during the global financial crisis, the commission’s predecessor body kept wages static as employment growth “slowed rapidly”. In 2010 award rates were increased by the largest amount allowable to make up for the lack of pay rise the previous year.
The annual wage review is largely conducted according to a legislated timetable, with decisions going into effect at the start of the financial year, but there are clauses in the legislation that allow the start date of any rise to be delayed due to “exceptional circumstances”.
A spokeswoman for the commission said it would “take into consideration any proposals it receives from interested parties” but added the commission had to abide by the legislated rules.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions, which traditionally pushes each year for a larger wage rise for Australian workers, declined to comment.
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.