Minimum wage lift means pay rise looms for almost 2 million
Up to 1.8 million low-paid workers will learn how much their incomes will climb when the national workplace tribunal unveils Australia's new minimum wage on Tuesday afternoon.
Just weeks out from the federal election, the Fair Work Commission will hand down the highly anticipated ruling to determine how much the existing minimum wage – $656 a week, or $17.29 an hour – will increase for the next 12 months.
In 2015, a 2.5 per cent boost to minimum wage translates to an increase of $16 a week.
The Fair Work Commission's yearly decision affects the one in five Australian workers whose wage is set by award rates. Photo: Jim Rice
The Fair Work Commission's yearly decision affects the one in five Australian workers whose wage is set by award rates. These awards set out minimum rates of pay and working conditions for just about every occupation.
Those not directly paid award rates are also affected. Employees are larger companies usually operate under an enterprise bargaining agreements. These are legally required to leave staff better off than the award.
Unions seek $30 a week
Citing "flat-lining" wages and growing inequality, the union movement is pressing the Fair Work Commission panel to boost the minimum wage by $30 a week, to $18.07 an hour.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions warned shrinking wages were increasing inequality and leading to a US-style underclass of "working poor".
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said minimum wage earners were more likely to be young women in casual or part-time roles, who were already at risk of disadvantage.
"A $30 a week rise for our lowest-paid workers is vital if we're to halt the alarming slide in living standards that is threatening the economic wellbeing of one in five Australians," he said.
Employer want smaller lift
Employer and industry groups, meanwhile, are hoping for far more modest increases of less than 2 per cent, warning the unions' wage claims are unaffordable and would force job cuts.
The Australian Hotels Association is seeking either a minimum wage freeze or a maximum rise of $7.90 a week (1.2 per cent).
The nation's biggest employer group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is urging the commission's wage panel to adopt a "cautious" increase of no greater than 1.2 per cent, or $7.90 a week.
"With more than 730,000 Australians out of work, including more than 250,000 young people, we need to make it easy for businesses to hire staff," the group said in its submission.
"Wage growth across the economy remains at record lows, indicating that employers lack the capacity to pay large increases."
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