Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has flagged he’s prepared to change the law to ensure a minimum wage rise for workers, signalling that “$18.93 an hour for an adult is not enough”.
Mr Shorten will lodge Labor’s formal submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review on Friday – a move that will ratchet up the pressure on the Morrison government not to adopt a neutral position.
Submissions to the wage review close on Friday. Fair Work’s annual decision on the national minimum wage will take effect after July 1.
Mr Shorten outlined the case for a minimum wage increase at a media conference in Canberra on Tuesday, after declaring last week that the federal election will be a referendum on wages.
But it’s not clear he will go as far as the ACTU in naming a new rate.
The national minimum wage is $18.93 an hour, or $719.20 for a 38-hour week. There is a 25 per cent loading for casual workers.
“I’m not the Fair Work Commission, but I can say that $18.93 an hour for an adult is not enough,” 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.”
Labor’s support for an increase will again put pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare his hand and move away from the traditionally neutral approach that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has adopted.
Mr Shorten has repeatedly said the commission “got it wrong” in backing the removal of some weekend penalty rates, signalling stagnant wage growth is one of the biggest complaints of voters.
“First of all, we trust the Fair Work Commission. But periodically, they do get it wrong,” Mr Shorten said.
“What we have to do is give them the tools, give them the guidelines.
“The minimum wage hasn’t been updated since the ’80s. I don’t mean the increments but the principles: In the ’80s, the internet wasn’t invented, water was free, mobile phones weren’t used, time-charging was still regarded as an anathema.
“They didn’t have this government in place, where we’ve seen out-of-pocket costs to see the doctor increase, [and] terrible cuts to the hospital system.”
Mr Morrison has left the door open to larger tax cuts to counter Labor’s wages push. They would build on the $144 billion in tax cuts over seven years that the government introduced last year.
In response, Mr Shorten signalled Labor would continue to target tax relief at lower-income earners.
“We believe that we should be focusing tax reform on providing greater refunds to people who earn less than $120,000 a year,” he said.
“What happens if you earn $90,000 a year, and some of you would know this, is that you spend nearly every dollar that you get.”
Mr Shorten rejected the idea that increasing the minimum wage would drive up unemployment.
“I don’t accept that a living wage causes unemployment,” he said.
“I don’t accept that paying people more than poverty wages actually cripples the economy.”