Minimum Wages Case

Minimum Wages Case

Illustration by Sam Wallman

Each year the ACTU and unions claim a pay rise for Australian workers through a ‘Minimum Wages Case’ — which is now called the ‘Annual Wage Review’.

There are about 2.3 million low-paid Australian workers on minimum award wages who rely on the case to protect their living standards.

These workers include cleaners, retail and hospitality staff, child care workers, farm labourers, and some factory workers. They include large numbers of women and part-time or casual workers employed in the private sector in lower-skilled jobs. For these workers, the minimum wages case is still their only chance of a pay rise each year. 

With the rise of insecure work, the number of people reliant on the minimum wage and awards has increased. Increasing the minimum wage is more important than ever.

 In 2018 we have won the biggest increase ever awarded by the Fair Work Commission, 3.5%, taking the hourly rate to $18.93 for minimum wage workers and $23.66 for casuals.

Increasing the minimum wage helps a huge portion of the workforce who are struggling with low wage growth and rising cost of living.   

The 2018 Annual Wage Review

In 2018 the Fair Work Commission granted an increase to the minimum wage of 3.5% or $24.32 per week, a step in the right direction but one which left many full-time workers struggling.

The restoration of a living wage – one of the proudest achievements of the early Australian union movement – remains the goal of our ongoing campaign.

The minimum wage should not leave people in poverty, it should provide a comfortable life for low-paid workers and underpin our labour market.

A fairer way to set Award wages

The Howard Government’s WorkChoices laws changed the way minimum wages were set to make them lower.

This meant that over the period of WorkChoices - which ended in 2010 – the wages of over 1.4 million Australians reliant on award wages went backwards in real terms. Average award wages dropped by around $30 a week and some award workers had their real wages cut by almost $100 a week.

In a final blow for award workers, the WorkChoices pay commission decided in July 2009 to freeze minimum wages – so award workers did not get a pay rise that year.

The pay freeze decision meant the average award worker had to wait almost two years until July 2010 for a pay rise, despite having to cope with increases in rents, health care and other basic living costs in the meantime.

A new pay setting body was established by the Labor Government – now-called the Fair Work Commission – to conduct the Annual Wage Review under fairer industrial relations laws.

Under the new laws, the wage review panel considers not only the economic criteria, like inflation and productivity, but also important issues like social inclusion, relative living standards and the needs of the low paid.