A $21 a week pay rise for workers on minimum wages is vital to protect jobs and maintain the purchasing power of working families, says the ACTU.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence today welcomed comments by Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard in support of a pay rise for low paid workers.

Mr Lawrence insisted that the union claim for a $21 a week pay rise was moderate and in line with the Federal Government’s policy of supporting a ‘considered’ rise for the low paid.

Mr Lawrence said a $21 pay rise was equivalent to inflation and would cushion the effects of the economic downturn for 1.3 million low paid workers reliant on minimum wages.

“A moderate rise for the low paid is a vital defence against a downturn in jobs and the prospect of a serious recession because it will maintain working families’ purchasing power and stimulate demand,” he said.

“The $21 per week pay rise would lift the Federal Minimum Wage from the current $543.78 a week to just $564.78 per week, only $14.86 per hour.”

Mr Lawrence said the ACTU’s $21 a week claim amounted to only a 55 cent an hour increase and would still leave many workers earning less than $15 an hour.

He said arguments that lifting the minimum wage by a moderate amount would cause unemployment were incorrect.

“There is no credible evidence that moderate, regular and predictable increases in minimum wages harm unemployment or inflation.

“Business lobby groups repeat these assertions each year and have opposed a minimum wage rise even in good economic times.

“A reduction in real minimum wages – as some business lobby groups have proposed — would be both unfair and counter-productive when the Government wants to stimulate domestic demand to support the economy.

“Life is only getting harder for the low-paid, who are typically women and young people, casuals and part-time workers with food and housing costs rising significantly over the past year.”

Mr Lawrence said it was the height of hypocrisy for business groups to oppose a pay rise for the low paid when remuneration for top CEOs averaged $3 million last year.

“CEO pay packages have increased by more than a $1 million since 2000, and the total remuneration of senior managers has risen by more than 15% over the past three years alone,” said Mr Lawrence.