The ACTU will on Wednesday call for the minimum wage for Australia’s lowest-paid workers to be lifted by $43 a week.
Declaring Australia must pursue the goal of ensuring full-time workers are no longer left living in poverty, unions will call for a two-year deadline to make the changes.
If adopted, the increases would increase the pay of up to 2.23 million award-minimum-dependent workers in Australia.
As Labor predicts the next election will be a “referendum on wages”, unions will lodge a formal submission with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) on Friday calling for a big jump in low-paid workers’ wages of 6 per cent.
The FWC has previously conceded that Australia’s minimum wage of $18.93 per hour – $37,398 per annum – leaves many full-time workers in poverty.
“No one in Australia should be forced to work below the poverty line, but that is exactly what the current minimum wage guarantees,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said.
“Within two years, we can make sure no full-time working Australian lives in poverty, while also stimulating spending and generating economic activity and growth.
“We also need to change the rules so that our minimum wage is one that people can live on – this is the basis of the fair go.”
The Morrison-Turnbull-Abbott government has traditionally taken a neutral approach to the question of increases to the minimum wage in submissions to the FWC.
But that position will be harder to sustain this week due to the highly politicised environment on wages policy.
“In arguing against raising the minimum wage to a living wage, the business lobby and the Morrison government are saying that it is OK for Australians to live below the poverty line,” Ms McManus said.
“It shows exactly how out of touch big corporations and the Morrison government are from everyday Australians, that they think workers living in poverty is an acceptable outcome of their wages policy.”
Unions argue the minimum wage is below the OECD definition of relative poverty, which is 60 per cent of median earnings.
Ms McManus said a 10.7 per cent increase – or $72.80 per week – would be necessary this year to guarantee no full-time Australian worker lives below the poverty line.
But the ACTU argues that gap should be closed over the next two years, starting with a $43 per week increase this year, and assuming a 1.5 per cent increase in the median next year, an additional 5.5 per cent in 2020.
Right wing commentators, the Morrison Government and others want to argue that living standards are not falling. How out of touch could they be? pic.twitter.com/glhbPwHge4
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) March 11, 2019
But it is Labor’s decision to also lodge its submission that will ratchet up the pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare his hand on whether Australia’s lowest-paid workers deserve another pay rise.
The New Daily understands that the ALP will not nominate a figure as the ACTU has done, but will call for an increase.
“Labor believes the minimum wage should be a living wage, particularly at a time of record low wage growth,” Labor spokesman Brendan O’Connor told The New Daily.
“Unlike the Liberals who consider low wages a ‘deliberate design feature of the economy’, we believe Australian workers deserve a pay rise.”
On Tuesday, Labor leader Bill Shorten flagged that not only was the minimum wage not enough, but that if elected he will pursue legislative changes to force the FWC to act.
“We trust the Fair Work Commission, but periodically they do get it wrong, and Hawke and Keating said they got it wrong when they made a decision, about when they rejected award-based superannuation in the late ’80s, which led to Keating legislating compulsory super,” Mr Shorten said.
“There’s a range of ways which governments can put the case to the Fair Work Commission. They can make submissions in the minimum-wage case.
“Another tool or mechanism which is available is to change the legislation. We’ll have more to say on this in coming weeks.”