A Federal Government plan to scrap the annual minimum wages case would mean a reduction in the living standards for working Australians and their families says the ACTU.

Speaking at the start of the 2005 annual minimum wages case before the
Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Melbourne today (Tuesday 12 April)
Mr Combet said:

“The Government wants to use its Senate majority later this year to change
the way minimum wages are set to make them lower. This means that today’s
minimum wages case could be the last of its kind. This would be a backward step
for working Australians. It would threaten the living standards of working
families who are already struggling to keep their heads above water.

Lower minimum wages will mean that Australia becomes more like the United
States where the minimum wage is just US$5.15 (AUS$6.66) and has not been raised
for eight years. In the US millions of working people live in poverty and I
don’t think that is the path the Australian public wants our Government to go

In this year’s case the ACTU is seeking a $26.60 a week increase in minimum
wages to lift the adult minimum wage from $467 a week up to $494. But the
Employment Minister Kevin Andrews is on record saying he believes minimum wages
are $70 a week higher than he would like – this would mean a pay cut for minimum
wage workers of more than $5,000 a year (see table below).

In its submission to today’s wages case the ACTU will present evidence that a
pay rise from $12.30 to $13 an hour is needed by Australia’s almost 1.6 million
low-paid workers and their families. ACTU evidence will also show this increase
is economically responsible and justified by strong productivity & jobs
growth in industries in which many minimum wages employees work:

Overall productivity in Australia in 2003-4 was just over 2% but in the
retail sector, the industry with the largest number of people on minimum award
wages, productivity growth was close to 7% and has grown by 26% since 1996.

·Overall employment in Australia grew by 13% since 1996 but in
industries with a high proportion of minimum wage workers like accommodation,
cafe and restaurants, and health and community services, employment grew by more
than 30%.

These productivity and employment gains have occurred in a period where the
ACTU has achieved an increase in minimum wages of $118 a week. The facts show
that real wage increases for Australia’s low paid workers has not cost jobs or
stifled productivity.

There is no justification for the Howard Government’s plans to change the way
minimum wages are set. It is disgraceful that the Government would try to use
its Senate majority to attack the basic rights and living standards of working

The ACTU is seeking a guarantee from the Prime Minister that the real value
of minimum wages in Australia will be maintained after the Government takes
control of the Senate.”

Minimum wages
Now (April 2005)
If ACTU claim for 2005 succeeds
If Howard Govt has its way

For more information: http://www.actu.org.au/public/campaigns/minimumwages.html