ACTU seeks 6.7% minimum wage rise

The ACTU is asking the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for a $45 a week (6.7%) increase in the national minimum wage.

The proposed rise is above the 2.4% increase the FWC handed down last year when it lifted the national minimum wage by $15.80 a week, after the ACTU claimed a $30 (4.6%) increase.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus is set to announce the 2017 claim during a lunchtime address today at the National Press Club in Canberra, labeling it an "historic increase" that would lift the annual minimum wage from the current $33,635 to $37,420.88.

McManus will argue in her speech that building economic security for the lowest-paid workers is at the core of the ACTU’s objectives.

"Australia’s minimum wage has been forced down to dangerously low levels when compared to average wages – stifling economic security for workers and further entrenching inequality which is now at a 70 year high," according to an excerpt from her speech.

"According to the OECD, the benchmark for an effective minimum wage is 60% of average wages. Our claim will move us towards this target."

The claim for an extra $45 a week translates to a rise of 6.7% for the C14 national minimum wage and about 5.7% for the C10 tradesperson's rate and below.

The claim is part of the more aggressive approach being taken by the ACTU under McManus, but it is sure to raise the hackles of employers.

AiG seeks "modest" 1.5% rise

The Australian Industry Group has called for a "modest" increase of 1.5%, which amounts to an extra $10.10 per week in the national minimum wage and about $11.75 per week at the C10 base trade level.

 Ai Group chief executive, Innes Willox, in arguing for the increase, cited "exceedingly weak" national employment growth; low inflation over an extended period; rising energy costs and other cost pressures eroding businesses’ capacity to afford wage increases; weak productivity growth and weak and uneven national aggregate income.

"Rising youth unemployment and underemployment, and falling participation, suggest significant pockets of spare capacity are building up, particularly at the lower-skilled end of the labour market," Willox said.

"In such circumstances, it is important that the Fair Work Commission adopt a cautious approach when determining the level of any minimum wage increase in this year’s annual wage review.”

The Ai Group traditionally supports a higher rise to minimum wages than the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is yet to reveal its proposed increase.

South Australia’s Weatherill Government argues in its submission the safety net should maintain the real value of minimum wages and address increasing earnings inequality for the low-paid.

It says the recent decision on penalty rates for the retail and hospitality sectors will reduce the take-home pay of some of Australia’s lowest paid, award-reliant workers which was “unacceptable".

The SA Government says the FWC should reconsider the penalty rates decision and restore the previous rates.

"In the absence of a restoration of previous penalty rates the Government of South Australia submits that workers should have their rates of pay restored by the setting of a special national minimum wage for a specific class of employees who will be affected by the penalty rates decision, by increasing their wages to equal to the amount(s) lost per hour, when working or being required to work on Saturday, Sunday or public holidays.”

"Such special national minimum wage increase for the specific class should commence, in the event the Penalty Rates Decision is implemented, on the date or dates of such implementation.”

The Master Grocers Association supports an increase to the national minimum wage and modern award rates of no more than 1.1% or $8.15.

"It is not economically feasible for the independent supermarket and liquor store sector across Australia, which forms the predominant membership of MGA, to sustain an increase to award rates in excess of 1.1 per cent, following the 2.4% increase in July 2016," the MGA says.

It argues that pending decisions on awards including proposed variations on casual conversion, increased remote allowances, the extension of minimum engagement for full time employees and the inclusion of overtime for casual employees which could significantly increase wage costs.

"Whilst MGA is aware that the Commission has given its decision in the Sunday penalty rates case and that the outcome has produced pleasing prospects for employers we understand that there is the likelihood of an appeal against the decision.

"Even if the decision is upheld there will be a need to phase in any adjusted penalties and therefore the benefits of the decision, if any, for employers would not be realised for some considerable time."

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