Jul 082008

I like the following from the Fair Pay Commission’s Chairman, Professor Ian Harper.

“Wages paid to the 1.3 million Australians who rely directly on the Commission’s decision comprise only a small percentage of the economy’s total wage bill. Furthermore, the impact on employment and unemployment will be relatively minor in the context of current economic circumstances.”

In fact, 1.1m workers are effected by this decision, according to the ACTU’s submission, which equates to just 13.25% of Australia’s 8.3m workers. A large portion of those 1.1m low paid workers are casual or part-time. What the Commission calls ‘piece-meal’ workers. Many of those work as wait staff in restaurants, eateries, bars, pubs and clubs.

The ACTU wanted a $26 per week rise in the minimum wage, while employer advocates were spruiking doom and gloom for the Australian economy, something akin to what fervent climate change advocates declare if we don’t enter into a global carbon trading scheme. Employers wanted any increases to "Be of a genuinely moderate nature only". In fact, the terminology ‘genuinely moderate’ appears a total of ten times in the ACCI’s submission. Reading through the ACCI submission, and after listening to it’s advocate on Radio National Breakfast this morning, I find their position to be both disingenuous, and greedy on members behalves. The postulation that a rise of between $10 and $11 because $10.25 was deemed to have maintained parity with costs of living in 2007, given the dramatic rise in costs of living in the past twelve months, simply doesn’t make sense. The ACCI’s position that tax cuts last year and again this year compensate for any perceived loss in purchasing power among low paid workers takes no account of the real world’s fiscal impacts. Rent, loan payments, petrol, food, transport have all escalated far beyond the ‘genuinely moderate’ claim.

All in all, as a social democrat, I don’t see $21.66 per week as being anything remarkable in the grand scheme. It’s certainly better than $10 to $11, but also less than $26 per week. In terms of being ‘genuinely moderate’, I’d suggest it’s precisely that. I might even have to review my opinion of Professor Ian Harper and his commission, even though there is only one more wage decision to come from the AFPC before being replaced by Fair Work Australia. If $0.57/hour helps make service staff a little happier, a little less stressed, and a little more likely to be focussing on better service than money, then I reckon it’s money well worth awarding.

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