The Guardian April 10, 2002


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.

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