Oxfam report says more wealth is concentrated in hands of the rich

The Australian, January 22, 2018

More wealth is concentrated in the hands of the rich, with the gap between Australia’s highest paid and the bottom 50 per cent now the greatest at any time over the past 20 years.

A new report by Oxfam Australia released today highlights how the share of wealth concentrated in the hands of the top one per cent of Australians grew to 23 per cent last year, up from 22 per cent in 2016.

The top one per cent of Australians own more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent of Australians combined.

“Wealth inequality in Australia has been on the rise over the past two decades, with the gulf between the amount of wealth held by the top 1 per cent and the bottom 50 per cent now the greatest at any time over this period,’’ the report says.

Oxfam Australia said the findings highlighted “a broken economic system that is concentrating ever more wealth into the hands of the rich and powerful, while ordinary working people are not always able to scrape by”.

“This is fuelling an inequality crisis all around the world, where people are finding it harder to lift themselves out of poverty and the divide between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow, including in Australia,’’ it said.

The report highlighted how some of the highest paid chief executives in the Australian clothing retail sector could earn, on average, about $6 million annually. But the women working in Bangladesh to make the clothes sold by these brands earned a minimum wage as low as $A974 per year.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the report showed the Turnbull Government was wrong to claim that inequality was not an issue for Australia workers.

“Working people can’t get fair pay rises because workers’ rights no longer balance the power of employers, and as a result, we have rising and crippling inequality,’’ Ms McManus said.

She renews the ACTU’s call for changes to the Fair Work Act, insisting the bargaining system was broken.

“Insecure work, which 40 per cent of Australian workers now find themselves in, means that workers don’t have the power to bargain for pay increases,’’ she said.

“Wage theft, which is rife in Australia, means that in many instances, workers aren’t even being paid what they’re meant to be.

“And, our awards system has fallen behind, and unions have been unable, by law, to improve them. We can only seek to push up the minimum wage, which is also far too low, leaving many workers in poverty.”