Unions will seek a $26 a week pay rise for Australia's lowest paid workers in 2012, whose wages have fallen well behind average income earners over the past decade and are not keeping pace with the cost of living.
The ACTU will today lodge its submission to Fair Work Australia's annual wage review to increase the award wage for the lowest paid workers to $615.30 per week. This would mean a 68c/hour increase from $15.51 per hour to $16.19 per hour. For other award-reliant workers above the benchmark tradesperson's rate, unions will seek a 3.8% pay increase.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said it was time for an increase that stopped the gap between low-paid workers and other workers from growing further.
"The 1.4 million workers on award wages - one in six workers - can barely meet the cost of living let alone live comfortably in an economy that is the envy of the developed world," Mr Lawrence said. "It is grossly unfair that minimum wages have fallen further and further behind average wages. The purchasing power of minimum wages is now also below the level it was in 2005.
"The wage increases awarded in 2010 and 2011 have stopped minimum wage workers from falling further behind. It's time to make up the ground that was lost under WorkChoices."
Mr Lawrence said that while the National Minimum Wage had more or less kept pace with overall wages growth in the early 2000s, low-paid workers had lost ground under Work Choices. Since mid-2005, overall wages have risen by 27.5%, while the NMW has gone up by 21.7%. The benchmark tradesperson's award rate has risen by only 18.7% over the same period.
Mr Lawrence said that if the National Minimum Wage had kept pace with overall wages growth since 2005, it would now be $617.50 per week. Instead it's just $589.30 per week.
Mr Lawrence said unions were seeking a $26 a week increase in the National Minimum Wage and in other award minimum wages up to the benchmark tradesperson's rate, equal to a 4.4% increase. Unions are seeking a 3.8% increase for other award workers.
"Minimum wage workers are the backbone of the economy. They are the people who clean our schools and shopping centres, serve us in hotels, who take care of our elderly and our children. These are people we cannot live without, yet their value is not reflected in their pay packets. We must ensure they are not forgotten.
"An extra $26 a week is modest and affordable, but will make a difference to the lives of minimum wage workers and their families. Over the past year they have shouldered large price rises for fruit and vegetables, fuel, electricity, water, and education and childcare.
"This is money they will spend on food, clothes, fuel and other necessities in the main streets of every Australian suburb and town."
Rebecca Tucker - (03) 9664 7359 or 0408 031 269 or firstname.lastname@example.org