Unions have called Bill Shorten’s plan to raise the minimum wage for low paid workers a “good move”, echoing the Federal Opposition leader’s calls to make sure the wage is a “living wage for all Australians.”
Unions WA Assistant Secretary Owen Whittle said a pay rise was due, after Mr Shorten announced on Tuesday changes that could raise the wage by as much as 23 per cent if he was elected as Prime Minister.
“Minimum wage in Australia hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of living, especially where some of our cost of living is quite exorbitant compared to the rest of Australia,” Mr Whittle said.
“We think that a stronger look needs to be taken at the minimum wage to make sure it’s a living wage.”
Mr Whittle said current minimum wage workers were “the working poor” and would benefit from the changes.
“The workers that are currently the lowest paid workers in this country are working on poverty wages,” he said.
“They don’t have a disposable income.”
Mr Shorten claimed Australia’s goal should be a “real, living wage” during his first speech of 2018, which would raise the pay of all Australians depending on minimum award rates.
He targeted low wage growth and criticised the minimum pay level inadequate while also calling for changes to enterprise bargaining laws to favour workers.
The ACTU has proposed replacing the minimum wage with a so-called “living wage” that would be 60 per cent of the median wage.
It would result in the current minimum wage increasing from $695 a week to $852.
The Federal Government has not ruled out adopting the proposal but has remained sceptical, saying more questioning is needed.
However, the small business sector has urged Labor to reconsider the changes, calling it a war on small businesses.
The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman said a rise in the minimum award wage would result in job losses, limited employment opportunities and business closures.
But Mr Whittle said small businesses did not have anything to worry about, claiming previous claims of job losses were false.
“We haven’t seen a strong proposal about how this would be rolled out in the implementation,” he said.
“Every time there’s any commonwealth wage increase, we’re told that its going to cost jobs, yet that’s never the case.”
“They’re scaremongering and I think businesses need to calm down and look at this in a more reasonable light.”
Experts claim more needs to do be done as a result of the current high cost of living.
“I don’t think anyone would suggest that $33,000 working full time in Australia is ever going to be an acceptable wage,” WA Greens Upper House MP Alison Xamon said.
“I think it’s a really sad state of affairs when you’ve got people who are working and still living in poverty.”
“For a country that is as wealthy as Australia, we need to be doing better than that.”
She said current low wage employees needed to seek advice, if they felt they were being exploited.
“There’s a difference between a lower wage that may be reflects a growing level of experience and keeping people permanently in states of poverty and that’s absolutely not okay.”