Executive Summary

Australian workers urgently need a pay rise

Over the past decade, wages in this country have barely grown.  This wage stagnation has now turned into a collapse in real wages as inflation has contributed to workers on average, losing $3,000 in real terms in the past 12 months.

This wages crisis is due to one thing only: the collapse of bargaining power for working people.  Any other reason just does not stack up. After all, productivity growth is positive, unemployment is historically low, and economic growth is healthy.

Collective bargaining should be the engine of wage growth in this country but has not been working for the past decade.  Today less than one in seven employees are covered by a current collective agreement.  It is far too easy for an employer to exploit and evade the laws.

Employers have also been turning permanent jobs into insecure ones.  Today nearly one in three workers is in a form of insecure work.  This puts their wages, job security and lives on hold.

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill 2022 (the Bill) is a critical and welcome measure to get wages urgently moving in this country.  It makes modest changes to open up the bargaining system and its benefits to more workers.

It also makes a start in delivering on the new Government’s commitments to make jobs more secure, and end wage theft but more needs to be done, especially for workers in casual, gig or labour hire work and to recover underpayments.

It includes key measures to make women safer at work, delivering on the final recommendations of the Respect@Work report, and makes serious inroad into ending the gender pay gap in this country, where progress has stalled, both by strengthening equal pay laws, and by enabling bargaining to make a greater contribution towards equal pay.

The Bill is not perfect. It does little to fix industrial action, which is among the most restrictive systems in the world for employees, but still comparatively easy for employers to take.  And the modest changes to the bargaining system in the Bill still leave a restrictive system in place which risks limiting its uptake and effectiveness.

Placing limits on the inclusion of small business in multi-employer bargaining risks shutting out an estimated 4.3 million Australian workers from a key reform to get wages moving, as does the exclusion of the construction industry.

The ACTU also raises in this submission a series of practical recommendations to help the Bill better achieve its stated intentions.  Nevertheless, the Bill is still a strong set of measures to get wages moving in this country.  The ACTU calls for this Committee to recommend the prompt passing of this Bill.