Stagnant wages a vital election issue
With wage growth stuck at around two per cent a year, Labor has promised to deliver a fairer wages system.
Companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange recorded their best profit results in a decade last financial year.
Three-quarters (77 per cent) of listed companies posted higher profits and 86 per cent of them increased dividends to shareholders or held them constant.
Since the middle of 2016, company profits have risen 43 per cent while wages have risen just 8 per cent, The Guardian reported (March 2019), citing Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says most workers have not received the benefits they should have got from higher productivity and company profits.
Labor leader Bill Shorten says the next election will be “a referendum on wages.”
“It will be a contest about who the economy should work for, whose interests the system should serve,” he said.
“Everything in Australia has gone up except for people’s wages.”
He said flat wages growth had forced people to “mine their savings” to pay for the basics.
Shorten says Labor will change the rules used by the Fair Work Commission to set the minimum wage to lift it above the “unfair” rate of $18.93 an hour.
“It simply isn’t fair, nor sustainable for economic confidence in this country, that an adult could work full time and be earning $18.93 an hour at the minimum wage before tax,” he said.
“The minimum wage in Australia should be a living wage.”
Wage stagnation is mainly due to barriers imposed on workers when they bargain for higher wages and the increased power of corporations in relation to employees, the ACTU says.
The Labor Party has promised to reintroduce pattern bargaining in low-paid sectors such as cleaning and childcare.
Pattern bargaining, which is now outlawed, would allow unions to negotiate wage increases across a whole industry rather than having to fight for them workplace by workplace.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said pattern bargaining would “take us back to the dark ages of workplace relations in this country” with a return to the strikes and stoppages of the 1970s.
Labor has also promised to restore weekend penalty rates, crack down on sham contracting and the rorting of skills visas, stop the use of labour hire to drive down wages and make equality for working women a priority in pay and in superannuation.
Where the parties stand on WAGES
Labor will ‘repair’ awards
- Change awards to make it easier to negotiate pay increases and ensure awards keep up with going industry conditions and rates.
- Give unions the right to bargain with multiple employers across an industry in order to achieve industry-wide pay rates and conditions.
- Restore penalty rates for the 700,000 workers who had them cut under the federal Coalition government – and change the rules so they cannot be cut for any other worker.
- Change the law to require the Fair Work Commission to raise the minimum wage.
- Support a living wage
Greens want higher minimum wages
The Greens have introduced legislation that would:
- raise the national minimum wage to 60 per cent of the median full-time wage (it’s now around 55 per cent) with the Fair Work Commission to set a phase-in period.
- The Greens say the main job of the industrial relations system must be to “protect the interests of working people from the disproportionate power of employers, chief contractors and monopolies”.
‘Leave it up to business’
The Coalition says wage increases should depend on the prosperity of business. “My view is we need the best environment for businesses to grow. That is the best opportunity to ensure wages can lift, not artificially, but sustainably,” said then treasurer (now prime minister) Scott Morrison in 2018.