Fair pay campaign picks up steam
Thousands of people have hit the streets in support of job security and fair pay.
The union movement’s campaign to change the rules is gathering pace with rallies and marches at 25 locations across Australia.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says Change the Rules will become the biggest mobilisation of working people since the Your Rights at Work campaign more than a decade ago.
“People around the country are ready to take action to change the rules and win more secure jobs and fair pay rises,” says ACTU Secretary Sally McManus.
“Profits are up, productivity is up, but wage growth is at record lows. We need new rules to balance the power of big business and bring back the fair go for working people.”
The ACTU has released a six-point plan to ensure a decent pay increase for the 2.3 million workers whose wages are set by awards (see box).
The plan also aims to make it easier for the 3.7 million people under collective agreements to negotiate fair pay rises.
Stagnant wages have put a brake on economic growth with even the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Philip Lowe, calling on businesses to lift wages to “boost household incomes and create a stronger sense of shared prosperity”.
Employers want a pay freeze
However, Australian employers are not listening.
More than half of major employers would like to freeze employees’ wages or offer below-inflation pay rises that are a cut in real terms, according to a recent survey by a leading law firm.
The Herbert Smith Freehills bargaining survey in April found that 60 per cent of employers want to grant workers only nominal wage increases or to freeze wages, and many more are looking to cut other conditions from workplace agreements.
“The survey will give further ammunition to the union movement, which wants legal changes to increase its bargaining power and has been arguing that big business cannot be trusted to pass on the Turnbull government’s proposed company tax cut,” commented The Guardian newspaper.
In other developments, the Minerals Council of Australia has called for a reduction in workers’ powers to strike over the content of workplace agreements and the reintroduction of individual workplace contracts.
And another employer group, the Australian Mines and Metals Association, wants to abolish the award safety net, according to The Australian Financial Review.
The safety net provides a floor below which conditions of collective agreements cannot fall.
The ACTU’s plan for fair pay increases
- Convert the minimum wage into a living wage so no full-time worker lives in poverty.
- End wage theft – change the law so working people can quickly recover stolen wages and superannuation.
And stop vulnerable workers being ripped off, create strong disincentives for employers to break the law.
- Increase award rates and narrow the gap between award minimums and collective agreements. About 2.3 million workers are covered by 122 awards that have not moved with community standards or market rates.
- Introduce new bargaining rules. Current laws give too much power to employers and make it far too hard for working people to negotiate their share of profits and productivity gains. Workers should have the option of bargaining across a sector rather than just company by company.
- Restore penalty rates to their pre-July 2017 levels and change the law to stop governments or employers ever cutting them again.
- Secure equal pay for women. Women earn 15.3 per cent less than men over their working lives and this has barely changed over the last 20 years. Women can expect 47 per cent lower retirement savings on average and many will retire in poverty.
Mounting opposition to tax gift to banks
Almost 50 economists, academics, and other public figures have signed an open letter calling on political leaders to reject a “race to the bottom” on tax.
The letter demands action on tax enforcement, closing loopholes and ending unfair tax concessions to build a stronger revenue base for the future.
The letter was published as the Australia Institute released a report into Australia’s tax affairs.
The report said the Liberal–National government’s tax plan would amount to a massive gift to the big four banks.
“By the time the tax cuts are fully implemented in 2026–27 the ‘gift’ to the banks will be $3,470 million per annum while the Commonwealth Bank alone will receive an annual gift of over one billion dollars at $1,032 million,” it said.
“These banks hardly need any assistance when their pre-tax profit is over $43 billion and after-tax profit is still very large at over $30 billion.”
The Turnbull government estimates its plan to cut the company tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent for companies earning more than $50 million a year will cost $30 billion over 10 years. It claims this will increase investment, demand for labour and wages.
However, the government will do nothing to force companies to invest more, employ more people or increase wages.
A poll by The Guardian newspaper in February found that 72 per cent of people would approve of forcing businesses to pass on a certain proportion of their tax cuts as pay rises for their workers.
Approval for that trade-off stretched across all voting groups, and across full-time and part-time workers, the paper said.
However, Treasurer Scott Morrison flatly rejected the idea.
“It is a highly interventionist method. It’s at odds with the way the Liberal and National parties would pursue growth in the economy,” he said.