Minimum or living wage: Australia decides

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Photo: Supplied by Darrian Trainer/Getty Images via The Guardian

 

Bill Shorten is promising minimum wage workers across Australia they will have a pay packet they can live off if his Labor Party wins this weekend’s federal election.

Labor says the plans to employ the Fair Work Commission to determine a living wage, which would lift minimum wage workers out of poverty and come into effect from July 1.

Andrew*, a 20-year-old who works in the Melbourne seat of Chisholm, is optimistic that a living wage would improve his living situation, saying he “could pay back student debt faster and be able to afford a house one day”.

The Fair Work Commission found that over a 10-year period the minimum wage for workers had been increasing. This increase, however, has not necessarily meant that those relying on the minimum wage have a decent standard of living. Labor’s change would “make sure people earn enough to make ends meet“. 

As someone supporting herself on the minimum wage, Mary, a 24-year-old who also works in Chisholm, says it isn’t terrible, but she doesn’t have time for hobbies.

“I work around 50 hours per week … I work most of the time so I hardly have time to do other things like shopping or hanging out with friends,” she says.

The wage issue is one that affects hundreds of thousands of Australians; the Australian Council of Trade Union’s nationwide rallies gained large attendance last month, drawing attention to the push for change.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus told D*scribe working people should not have to struggle with the cost of living.

“Nobody in Australia should work full-time and live in poverty,” she said.

Labor has developed a two-step plan it says will balance business concerns with lifting Australia’s lowest paid employees from poverty.

Mary worries that a wage change would have a negative impact on her workplace.

“The place I work at is a small business and I know that my employer doesn’t earn a lot and that’s why I haven’t asked for a raise,” she said.

“Having a higher pay would mean that my employer will suffer.”

The unions as a whole are pushing for job security, and less cuts to penalty rates, to ease worker stress.

McManus says that, should the Labor promise of a living wage come to fruition, businesses will be affected in a positive way.

“Businesses in Australia are being held back by a lack of consumer demand and consumer confidence. Basically their customers don’t have money to spend,” she said.

“When working people – especially people in low-paid jobs – get pay rises, they spend that money in local businesses.

“Fair pay rises and a living wage will help get Australia moving in the right direction for working people and business owners.”

While Labor’s promise is aimed at winning votes this election, it would seem that across Australia, thousands would benefit from a policy change.

*The names of minimum wage workers have been changed, to maintain anonymity.

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