The ACTU will seek a $24.60 a week wage rise next year for 1.7 million award workers. If successful, the claim would bring Australia’s legal Minimum Wage to $12 per hour.

Announcing the unions’ annual Minimum Wages Case in Sydney today, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet urged the Federal Government to support the claim so that no Australian adult worker could be forced to work for less than $12 an hour before tax.

Mr Combet said many low-income workers and their families were struggling to make ends meet and were being forced into record levels of debt.

“Nearly half of the employees who depend on award wages earn less than $13 per hour, or $500 a week. Many of them are women struggling to support families through work in the hospitality, cleaning, retail, childcare and clothing trades. These people work hard for little reward – they need a decent pay rise.” Mr Combet said.

The ACTU’s 2003 wage claim is the next stage of the union strategy to boost Australia’s Federal Minimum Wage to at least $500 a week.

“The Howard Government has opposed the ACTU’s Minimum Wages Case every year since coming to office. If the Government had had its way since 1996, workers on the minimum wage would $30 a week worse off then they are now,“ Mr Combet said

“Mr Howard should not oppose a decent increase for people earning less than $500 a week when he is refusing to rule out new tax breaks for executive share option deals for people earning more than $500 an hour,” Mr Combet said.

Chief executive salaries, including “golden parachute” retirement benefits, increased by 7.1% this year to an average $1.79 million, according this month’s Australian Financial Review annual survey of CEOs from Australia’s top 183 listed companies.

Commenting on executive remuneration last month, Mr Howard told radio 2GB:

“But it’s all a question of what is fair – you can’t ask trade unions to display restraint and you can’t criticise trade unions … if at the same time you turn a blind eye to people who are making too much of a welter of it.” (Ray Hadley show, October 2).

The ACTU’s claim is conservatively costed to add 0.1% to economy-wide earnings, 0.05% to inflation and have a negligible impact on employment. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission will hear the case next year.