Pay battles expose Coalition’s contempt for wage justice
Be it health care in NSW or aged care nationwide, Liberal/National governments are determined to keep wages low.
Liberal/National Party Coalition governments have a mean streak when it comes to fair pay in aged care.
In 2012, the Gillard Labor government committed $1.2 billion to address aged care workforce issues, including specific funding for wage increases.
However, in 2014 the Abbott government abolished the measure, despite warnings from the Aged Care Financing Authority. Instead, it told aged care providers to bring in more temporary migrant workers.
Fast forward to 2022 and another federal Coalition government is displaying a similar contempt for wage justice.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is currently considering a union application for a 25 per cent wage increase for aged care workers. Aged care employers have told the FWC they also support a pay rise but haven’t specified how much.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese says his government will also make a submission to the FWC supporting a pay increase if Labor wins the election.
The Morrison government alone refuses to support a permanent pay rise. Instead, it hopes aged care workers will be satisfied with two one-off payments of $400.
This is a rejection of the aged care royal commission’s call for higher wages in the sector last year.
As Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said, “If Mr Morrison was fair dinkum, he’d turn up at the Fair Work Commission, the independent umpire of wages, and support increasing the base rate per hour. If we don’t do that, we’re going to see a flight of aged care workers into hospo, into retail, into Bunnings, and nothing ever changes.”
In NSW, Scott Morrison’s counterparts in Macquarie Street have shown a similar disregard for wage justice for nurses and midwives.
The NSW Coalition Government gave nurses and midwives an insulting 0.3 per cent increase in the first year of the pandemic and a 1.5 per cent pay rise in 2021.
As NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said, “Not only is this offer disrespectful of our hardworking members, but it also sends a message to any nurses and midwives entering the public health sector that they are not valued by their employer.”
Such paltry increases also make no economic sense.
A study by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute found that blocking pay rises for essential workers “is not just morally questionable – it’s also a major economic mistake”.
“The motivation for public sector wage austerity seems more ideological than fiscal or economic. Our research shows these arbitrary pay freezes are both unfair and economically counterproductive,” said Dr Jim Stanford, the lead author of the study.
Even the Reserve Bank of Australia says improved wages remain central to any recovery from the pandemic.
For years, the Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, has said wages growth in Australia needs to “have a three in front of it” for spending to pick up and our economy to prosper.
Dr Andrew Charlton, a key economic adviser for the Rudd government when it crafted its stimulus package in response to the Global Financial Crisis, said keeping wages low is “precisely the opposite direction economic policy needs to be headed to achieve the government’s goal of supporting economic recovery.”
Where the parties stand on WAGES
Labor promises to:
make a submission to the Fair Work Commission supporting a pay increase for aged care workers if it wins government
legislate to criminalise wage theft – the deliberate underpayment or non-payment of wages, which disproportionately impacts young people, women, overseas students and migrant workers. A 2019 report estimated the underpayment of Australian workers’ entitlements at $1.35 billion per year including $220 million in “healthcare and social assistance”
ensure that workers employed through labour hire companies receive no less than workers employed directly.
The Greens support:
raising the minimum wage to at least 60 per cent of the full-time adult median wage so workers can afford to meet their basic needs
giving workers the right to engage in industrial action, including the right to strike, consistent with international law and not limited to artificially restricted bargaining periods
giving workers the right to engage in collective bargaining on any matter relevant to their social, economic and environmental interests.
The Coalition government imposed a 12-month pay freeze on federal government employees in 2020.
Its latest wage policy is to ensure that Commonwealth public sector wage rises do not exceed wage rises in the private sector.
The Liberal and National parties promise to continue “tackling union lawlessness and thuggery”.