The Guardian May 9, 2001


Living Wage Case: Gap between rich and poor widens

by Marcus Browning 

The Howard Government's success in defeating the union movement's $28 
Living Wage claim for low paid workers means more families will slide into 
poverty. Working women, who are in the majority of low paid jobs, will be 
particularly hard hit by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission 
decision to grant only a $13 increase. On the other hand, employers, such 
as BHP-Billiton chairman Brian Gilbertson, who has just rewarded himself 
with a $17 million bonus, will be popping champagne corks over the 
decision. 

The $13 increase is a 3.25 percent rise to workers on the federal minimum 
wage of $400. After tax they will get only $9.10, which will be quickly 
swallowed up by higher inflation caused by the GST and rising petrol 
prices. 

"We welcome any decision that puts more money into the hands of the lowest 
paid, said ACTU President Sharan Burrow. "But too many working people and 
their families are falling into poverty because prices are rising faster 
than wages. 

The United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia and the Working 
Women's Centre together condemned the Howard Government's opposition to the 
union case for a $28 increase. 

"This was the chance for the Government to demonstrate practical assistance 
for working women, said Trades and Labor Council Assistant Secretary, 
Michelle Hogan. 

"Instead they opposed the ACTU case and we now see a miserable $13 increase 
delivered by the Industrial Relations Commission as the result. 

The Working Women's Centre regularly assists low-income women in dealing 
with issues at work. 

"The Living Wage decisions are the only mechanism for women who have been 
denied wage increases through enterprise bargaining, to access any increase 
in their wage, stated Sally Biddle, the Centre's Acting Director. 

"This increase does not even allow low paid women's wages to keep pace with 
inflation  let alone all the increases in housing, child care and petrol 
costs, Ms Biddle said. 

Unions Tasmania Secretary Lynne Fitzgerald said: "Low paid workers are 
scraping to make ends meet. They are juggling bills in order to make 
payments, borrowing (often from friends or family) for significant 
purchases and going without things like holidays and entertainment. 

"Low paid workers tell of not being able to afford household contents 
insurance or recreation and of having to borrow for things like car repairs 
or to replace broken household appliances. 

Tasmania's economy is performing well and Unions Tasmania will be applying 
to the State's Industrial Commission to have the $13 flow on to state 
awards. "We will apply to have state award rates increased from August 1 to 
assist low paid workers for whom life is a real struggle, said Ms 
Fitzgerald. 

The Trades and Labour Council of the Australian Capital Territory said that 
the Federal Government, supported by the ACT Government, is now thoroughly 
exposed for what they are. 

Labour Council Secretary Jeremy Pyner said that the union application for 
$28 provided a real opportunity for the Government to deal front-on with 
the escalating problem of Australia's working poor. 

"Rather than providing arguments in favour of reducing the financial 
pressure so many families find themselves in, they have succeeded in 
providing a net weekly increase of $9.10  which will disappear in the 
blink of an eye at the petrol bowser or as a consequence of the GST. 

Sharan Burrow said that voters were very aware that Prime Minister Howard 
and his colleagues are about to collect a pay increase of their own of 
around $200 a week. "The yawning gap between rich and poor in this country 
has stretched a lot more this week.

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