ACTU demands low pay overhaul

The Australian, November 2, 2017

ACTU secretary Sally McManus will campaign for an overhaul of how the national minimum wage is calculated to combat a “cost-of-living crisis’’ for low-paid workers.

In a speech tonight, Ms McManus will call for changes to minimum wage settings to ensure the commission gives greater attention to ensuring low-paid workers receive an income that covers the “reasonable needs of an average sized family”.

The ACTU wants the tribunal to examine in detail the cost of renting a two-bedroom flat in a working-class suburb of Sydney or Melbourne, the cost of providing a balanced diet for a family of four, the cost of running a car, as well as electricity, gas and childcare.

Unions also want the commission to consider how much workers would need left over at the end of a week to take the family out for a meal or to a footy match.

To coincide with the 110th anniversary of the landmark Harvester judgment, the ACTU has released a new report that argues the “soaring cost of living is driving millions of workers into poverty”. Arguing there is a cost-of-living crisis, the report breaks down ABS data to show the price of electricity, gas, childcare, health, housing, education and transport has risen substantially faster than the inflation rate.

Under the Fair Work Act, the minimum wage is set by a panel of experts, with unions arguing only a small part of proceedings looked directly at the needs of the low paid. Its latest decision acknowledged the current minimum wage would still leave many full-time workers in poverty.

Unions wants a “living wage” that ensures all workers can afford rent in a suitable dwelling, a healthy diet, a good quality education, healthcare, transport, electricity and other energy costs, adequate clothing, entertainment and a contingency for unexpected expenses.

Ms McManus said millions of Australian workers had fallen into poverty. “The figures from the ABS show that rather than getting better, everything is getting more expensive and wages aren’t keeping up,’’ she said. “The government is failing working people. The promise of Harvester was ­financial security for working people, not barely keeping from starving and making endless sacrifices to keep the lights on.”

She said the decline of the minimum wage was proof “the rules that once made Australian workplaces fair are broken”.

“We are rapidly moving towards the creation of an American-style working poor. A class of people who barely keep their heads above water, despite working full time, sometimes in multiple jobs,’’ she said.

“Corporate profits rose 40 per cent last year, and full-time workers can’t afford to feed and clothe a family. The system is broken.”

In her speech tonight, Ms McManus says the calculations sought by unions “would put people at the centre of the economic debate”. “These are the type of calculations that would make sense to ordinary Australians. These are the calculations required to ensure that the two sides of coin are balanced when setting the minimum wage.”

She will challenge Treasurer Scott Morrison “to get his staff of economists in Canberra to measure what a fair and reasonable minimum wage would be, rather than asking them to produce fake data to justify his lies that income inequality has not increased”.