Paul Osborne and Jennifer Rajca
(Australian Associated Press)
Australia’s peak trade union body will push for a $45 a week rise in the minimum wage, but Labor won’t be specifying the figure it wants.
New ACTU secretary Sally McManus told the National Press Club the country’s workplace laws were “broken” and the minimum wage had fallen to a “dangerously low level”.
“Wage theft is a new business model for far too many employers. Inequality in our country is now at a 70-year high. And 679 of our biggest corporations pay not one cent in tax,” Ms McManus said on Wednesday.
Pointing to the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce penalty rates in the retail and hospitality sector, she said the mechanisms used in the past to improve living standards “are no longer working”.
Labor said in its submission released late on Wednesday – which did not specify a figure for the rise – any decision needed to take into account the rising cost of living, growing inequality and a pending cut in penalty rates for low-paid workers.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said he agreed with the union movement’s proposition that “Australians are doing it tough”.
“There is not only an argument in the case of fairness to lift the minimum wage, I think there is a sensible economic case that Australians need the confidence to be able to spend,” he said.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said the bottom line of Ms McManus’ plan would see businesses employ fewer people.
“Going for that kind of wage rise in the absence of productivity to justify it, and that’s a major condition, is job killing,” he said.
“They’re basically showing scant regard for the people who don’t have a job who want a job or the people who might lose their job as a result of that kind of claim.”
The Australian Industry Group is requesting what it argues is a modest wage increase of 1.5 per cent.
“This equates to an increase of about $10.10 per week in the national minimum wage,” chief executive Innes Willox said.
The Australian Retailers Association proposes a 1.2 per cent increase, citing the continuing economic uncertainty and fragility of the retail sector.
Ms McManus said Australia’s minimum wage once led the world but had been slipping rapidly down the rankings.
“It is $17.70 an hour, or just less than $35,000 a year if you are a full-time worker,” she said.
“Imagine what it’s like living on $35,000 a year anywhere in Australia, let alone in Sydney and Melbourne.”
The low rate was dangerous because it created a class of working poor and provided a “big incentive for employers to destroy good, steady jobs” through outsourcing and labour hire, she said.
Mr Shorten asked the prime minister in parliament whether the government would make a submission, and challenged him to cite the current minimum wage.
Mr Turnbull correctly replied the minimum wage was $672.70 a week.
He said the government would be making an “informative submission” enabling the commission to make an independent decision.