ACTU lodges "Living Wage" claim
by Peter Mac The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has launched a campaign for higher wages for the nation's lowest paid workers. ACTU Secretary Greg Combet pointed out that half of Australia's 1.7 million workers who depend on "living wage" case wage rises earn less than $13 per hour. In addition, 1.4 million of them last year suffered an effective wage cut because their wages failed to keep up with price rises. The ACTU is seeking an increase in the minimum hourly rate from $10.88 to $11.54 — a rise of $25 per week, to bring the wage of such workers to $438 for a 38-hour working week. It lodged a claim with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission last Wednesday. The poverty line for a family with two children and one parent in full-time work, is $539, according to Melbourne University's Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. The Institute estimates that over the last three years the poverty line has risen by $85 per week, while weekly wages had risen by only $40. The ACTU claim is supported by the government of South Australian, where a claim has already been lodged by the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia (UTLCSA). Chris White, UTLCSA Secretary, commented that "income inequality is widening in SA. There are far too many who are the 'working poor', who have not enough money for basic necessities, who have to go to welfare for assistance and who rely on this increase." Mr Combet last week pointed out that the economy was currently growing at 4.1 per cent per annum, He commented: "If the low-paid can't get a decent pay rise now, then when can they ever get one?" The Howard Government has been forced to acknowledge that a rise is justified, but wants it capped at $10 per week. The Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry are going along with this. Another employer body, the Australian Hotels Association, has rejected even this pathetic concession and called for a six-month total wage freeze. The Government is expected to trot out the usual employer arguments that wage rises damage the economy and create unemployment. In reality, wage increases can boost the economy, since working people in general, and low paid workers in particular, spend a large part of any increase on the purchase of consumer goods and services. Employers and governments object to wage rises because they eat into profits. It is a question of how the wealth that is created by the labour of workers is divided up. The larger the share going to workers, the smaller the share pocketed by their employers and vice versa. Moreover, next month, the Federal Government budget will allocate huge resources to military spending to be paid for by savage "belt-tightening" for the worst-off in the community, including those on welfare. The world of business, on the other hand, should do very nicely out of the massive increase in spending on wars, preparations for war, the government's cruel and wasteful asylum seeker policy. In addition, they stand to gain from privatisation, corporate tax "reforms" and other government assistance. Business leaders have, however, issued dire predictions that the ACTU's wage claim would hit the worst-off with tax hikes and loss of welfare benefits. The Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, which represents many of the lowest-paid workers, is not overly confident about the Commission's ability to provide a just ruling for the lowest paid workers. Brian Daley, Victorian Secretary of the union, indicated that they are planning a campaign of industrial action that could see Melbourne carparks shut down, and the city's streets gridlocked, in the event that the claim is not successful.