It is vital that the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers should not have their living standards eroded during the economic downturn, unions say.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said comments by the head of the Fair Pay Commission, Professor Ian Harper, published in a newspaper today were irresponsible as they indicate the Commissioner had already pre-judged this year’s minimum wage case.
Mr Lawrence said more than 1.3 million Australian workers relied directly on the annual minimum wage case to improve their standard of living and keep the wolves from the door.
The minimum wage was their safety net against falling below the poverty line, he said.
“Submissions for this year’s minimum wage case are not due until late next month, so it is highly irresponsible for Professor Harper to be commenting at this stage,” Mr Lawrence said.
“Even worse, he seems to have already decided that low-paid workers will only get a marginal pay rise this year.
“How can workers expect a fair hearing when the head of the Commission has already made up his mind?
“Professor Harper is wrong to argue that a decent pay increase for the low paid will affect jobs.
“Research put before the Commission has consistently shown that there is no relationship between unemployment and a modest rise in the minimum wage.
“Professor Harper’s comments are the same tired argument that is trotted out every year by employer groups, but does not stand up to the facts.
“Low-paid workers – such as cleaners, child care workers, labourers and restaurant and café staff – rely on this case to feed their families and pay their bills.
“Last year they received a wage rise of just 57 cents an hour, and it would be unfair for them to bear the brunt of an economic downturn exacerbated by poor business practices.”
Mr Lawrence said Professor Harper was also wrong to include the one-off cash payments made as part of the economic stimulus package in his consideration of minimum wages.
These payments were made to boost domestic demand, and should not be substituted for a sustainable and lasting increase to real wages, he said.
“The wages of more than a million workers dropped in real terms under WorkChoices.
“This is another reason why workers need new IR laws that will get rid of WorkChoices for good, and why the Fair Work Bill must not be blocked by the Senate.”