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.