This week the Australian Fair Pay Commission increased the minimum wage by $21.66 effective on October 1st 2008. The decision was condemned by employer organisations and praised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
Even though this is a below inflation increase the boss’s organisations still kicked up a stink. This is because they actually represent their members properly and they do not like to see employers hand over anything at all. They know that any increase in workers wages (even a below inflation increase) will mean a decrease in their profits.
Unfortunately at this stage workers do not have representatives that fight nearly as hard as the employer groups. ACTU leader Jeff Lawrence said “the rise made up for last year’s grant of an extra $10.26 and would help repair the damage from Work Choices”.
The facts are that consumer prices rose by 4.2% on average in the year to March. Many items including food, rent and petrol have risen by much more. This increase will only give low-income earners a pay rise ranging from 4.1% to 2.0%.
This can hardly be called a rise and it is a double slap in the face for young workers who are on junior wages. These workers will only get a percentage of this increase depending on their age.
This decision affects 1.3 million workers of which about 100,000 are on the minimum wage, and get a 4.1% rise. The rest are on awards, and for them the 57 cent per hour rise works out to between 4% and 2%, well below average price rises.
The ACTU only campaigned for a $26 per week increase claiming this would be a good result. Employer groups argued for a rise of between $10 and $13 per week although they would have preferred to give nothing at all.
The reason the ACTU leaders are so weak when it comes to fighting for a decent minimum wage is not because they are bad people, it flows from their politics. They have no alternative economic policies to the Labor Party or the employers.
On this basis they see no option but to prop up the party in power and the system that puts profits before the living standards of the low paid. It is an exceptionally useless trade union leadership that puts their confidence in a pro-business body like the Australian Fair Pay Commission rather than their own members.
What is needed is for the union movement to break from the pro-business policies of the bosses and the Labor Party and to develop their own economic and political alternative.
Workers need industrial and political organisations that unashamedly put their interests ahead of the employers. In a nut shell we need representatives that fight as hard as the employer groups.
This approach would open the door for the trade unions to set a decent minimum wage and then actually go out and run an industrial campaign to achieve it. It is only policies like these that will result in the low paid improving their living conditions.