Minimum wages now in business’ sights

Mark Phillips

July 31, 2013


FIRST it was penalty rates. Then came the resurrection of individual contracts. Now business groups are going after minimum wages in their campaign to cut the conditions and rights of Australian workers.

The Business Council of Australia – the union for the CEOs of Australia’s largest 100 companies – has opened up this new front in a major report released today titled Economic Action Plan for
Enduring Prosperity.

A recommendation within the report urges the Treasurer to establish a Productivity Commission inquiry into the workplace relations system examining, among other things, penalty rates, individual agreements, and minimum wages.

This puts more flesh onto the federal Coalition’s industrial relations policy proposal to set up a Productivity Commission inquiry as one of the first orders of business should it win this year’s election.

The BCA’s report is the latest salvo by business groups agitating for a return to WorkChoices-style policies ahead of election day.

In the past week, both the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Mines and Metals Association have also released reports calling for wholesale changes to the workplace system.

Following encouragement from the Coalition that business had to raise the volume on workplace issues to create an atmosphere conducive for change, they all seem to be singing off the same song sheet, with wider use of individual contracts, tighter restrictions on workers’ ability to be represented by a union and to take industrial action, and the removal or reduction of penalty rates.

But until now, no-one has dared to touch the minimum wage.

As ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver wrote in a recent article for Working Life, Australia’s minimum wage is a living wage, and one of the things that separates us from countries like the United States.

Every year, Australian unions, led by the ACTU, go into bat in the Fair Work Commission on behalf of the 1.5 million Australian workers who rely on Award minimum wages, whether they’re in a union or not.

“In Australia, we believe that if you work hard, you should get a fair day’s pay. You shouldn’t have to rely on tips to keep your head above water, and you should be able to put something away to plan for a better life,” Mr Oliver wrote.

“The spirit of a fair go that is imbued in our national character means we don’t want to see anyone left behind.”

WATCH: Leah explains why penalty rates are important

The president of the BCA, Tony Shepherd, has tried to play down the significance of the attack on minimum wages, but it’s there in black and white on page 90 of the policy document, couched in non-threatening language:

“the extent to which the high minimum wage prevents new labour market entrants from gaining initial experience, to inform future wages policy directions.”

That can only mean one thing: cutting minimum wages.

The national minimum wage in Australia is $622.20 a week, after an increase of $15.80 a week began at the start of July.

The gap between the minimum wage and average earnings has widened sharply over the past decade.

The average wage of a CEO of a top 300 ASX listed company was $2.5 million last year, an increase of 6% – or 77 times the minimum wage.

“Our minimum wage is certainly high by world standards but we’re not for a second suggesting it should be reduced,” Mr Shepherd claimed on ABC radio this morning.

He added: “We believe the gap between low income earners and high income earners is about right.”

Meanwhile, the campaign by the business lobby to abolish penalty rates is building.

McDonald’s Australia CEO Catriona Noble – who chairs the BCA’s workplace committee – has effectively told university or school students that they are not welcome to work for her company if they want penalty rates.

“We don’t want every person who works nights and weekends to have penalty rates when they are not available to work Monday to Friday,” she said, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Leah, who works in a women’s refuge centre in Sydney, has a different point of view.

Her centre has to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – and penalty rates are important part of the compensation for those rostered to work those hours.

Co-incidentally – or perhaps, not so coincidentally – today’s newspapers have also been dropped a story from the Coalition which rehashes once again its plans to tie unions up in more red tape to limit their capacity to represent workers.

A clear joint strategy is starting to take shape: business groups advocating for retrograde cuts to wages and conditions, hand in hand with a Coalition that would deliberately weaken unions so there is no-one to protect workers.

Given the title of the BCA’s report released today, the question has to be asked: enduring prosperity for whom? Certainly not for Australian workers.

Posted on August 6, 2013, in ConspiracyOz Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

    “………Last time I sunk my teeth into these issues I explained how the ostensibly very low “net debt” figures bandied around by many, including the PBO [Parliamentary Budget Office] are a complete fiction: they assume the debts of wholly owned government companies and state governments simply do not exist.
    The net debt numbers are also artificially reduced by taking cash from the Future Fund, which was set up to meet unfunded superannuation liabilities, which are not – surprise, surprise – included in the debt estimates.
    It’s the same as ignoring money you owe to someone but recognising the cash you have saved to repay them.
    Once you add back in state and wholly owned government entity liabilities, Australia’s net debt almost doubles from 10.6 per cent to over 20 per cent of gross domestic product. Since net debt is open to so much fudging, real analysts focus on true debt. Since 2007 federal and state government debt has exploded from $150 billion to $500 billion, with the actual debt-to-GDP ratio approaching… 40 per cent…
    This is precisely what Barnaby Joyce has been saying, since late 2009.
    In recent days here at Barnaby Is Right, we have seen how our Treasury department boffins have completely failed to recognise the true reason for Australia’s structural budget deficit.
    It is exactly the same reason that Ireland crashed in 2008…….”


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