Unions will seek a $25 a week wage rise for workers earning as little as $10.88 per hour, or $413 per week, in the ACTU’s Living Wage Claim for 2002.

Announcing the claim in Melbourne today, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said the $25 increase was needed by many workers struggling to keep up with price rises on essential household expenses following the introduction of the Government’s GST.

“Hikes in the cost of fresh food, petrol, child care and other household items have far exceeded even the Government’s upper-band GST forecasts and are making it virtually impossible for many working families to keep up,” Mr Combet said.

“The most recent prices survey by the ACCC show that despite predictions fresh food prices would fall by 1.1%, fresh and unprocessed food had gone up by massive 10.3% since the GST was introduced. Bread is up by 5.1%, and car running costs and alcohol and tobacco products up by 5.1% and 11.2% respectively.

“Half of the 1.7 million employees who depend on award wages for their livelihoods are earning less than $13 per hour, or $500 a week. Many of them are women struggling to support families through work in the hospitality, retail, cleaning, childcare and clothing trades,” Mr Combet said.

A NEWSPOLL survey published in today’s Australian confirmed that the burden of the Government’s GST has fallen hardest on low-income earners Mr Combet said. Fifty-one per cent of poll respondents said they are worse off as a result of the GST. Households earning less than $30,000 a year, 65% reported feeling worse of as a result of the GST.

Mr Combet said the ACTU’s $25 claim was economically affordable, representing an average annual pay rise of 3.8%, compared to the latest 5.3% rise in Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings (AWOTE) reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Under the claim, award rates would rise by $25 to bring the Federal Minimum Wage to $438.40 per week ($11.54 per hour). The ACTU has calculated that the claim would add less than 0.1% to the Consumer Price Index and contribute less than 0.2% to economy-wide earnings over 12 months.

“Despite John Howard’s promise that no-one would be worse off under his Government, low-paid workers have been hard hit by the GST. If the Federal Government is concerned about a fair go for working families, then it should support the unions’ Living Wage claim.”

Real wage and salary income for the lowest-paid 40% of Australian households fell by between $13 and $85 a week during the 1990s, according to a report last month by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM). Over the same period, the highest-paid households received real increases ranging above $100 a week.

For more information on the ACTU’s Living Wage Claim including a detailed background document go to the Living Wage 2002 campaign page.