Minimum wage debate back on the agenda

by 24 Mar 2009

Unions are seeking a $21-a-week pay rise for workers on minimum wage.

However the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said that the risk to jobs in the current economy is too great to give an economy-wide wage increase.

Calling on the Australian Fair Pay Commission to defer any decision to increase Australia’s minimum wage, ACCI Chief Executive Peter Anderson said an increase should be held over until the impact of the global economic recession on Australia’s small and medium business sector is clearer, and our rising unemployment has stabilised.

“Just at the moment, an economy-wide wage rise across 1.3 million employees and 250,000 small and medium businesses is neither the smart thing to do, nor the right thing to do. The downside risks to jobs are too great,” said Anderson.

However the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said an increase was important to protect jobs by maintaining the purchasing power of working families and stimulate the economy.

“Decent wages are a vital defense against a downturn in jobs and the prospect of a serious recession because they stimulate demand,” said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence. “The $21-per-week pay rise would lift the Federal Minimum Wage from the current $543.78 a week to just $564.78 per week, only $14.86 per hour.”

He urged the Fair Pay Commission to reject recent calls by employer lobby groups for a wage freeze, which he said would be equivalent to further real pay cuts.

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