Wage claim dubbed outrageous by employer association

By: Graham Gardiner

A push for a $21 weekly minimum wage increase by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has been lambasted

A push for a $21 weekly minimum wage increase by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has been lambasted by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

As a fourth wage review resumes at the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC), the ARA maintains a "nil" increase is more feasible than pay rises.

ARA executive director Richard Evans says the ACTU’s proposition is "outrageous" and the reasonable approach to safeguarding jobs is to deter minimum wage increases until economic recovery is evident.

"The unions are stuck in old-world thinking and need to be far more conscious of saving jobs, rather than putting pressure on employers to pay more. We are in unique financial times and need to show caution," Evans says.

In light of recent government cash payments of at least $900, he says the wage increase is simply an excessive employer-funded hand-out.

"Retailers are operating in unstable times and we must be focusing on decisions that save jobs – not those that threaten employment. How will paying staff more money help the economy? It will drive more retailers to shed staff," he says.

In opposition, ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence insists more than 1.3 million award-reliant workers must get a pay rise.

"Decent wages are a vital defence against a downturn in jobs and the prospect of a serious recession because they stimulate demand," he says.

"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.

"The ACTU urges the Fair Pay Commission to reject recent calls by employer lobby groups for a wage freeze, which would mean further real pay cuts."

The National Farmer’s Federation (NFF) is one such group that contends a wage freeze is the best option for vulnerable businesses.

NFF president David Crombie says in order to maintain significant growth in agricultural employment, the Commission needs to commit to wage restraint.

"The global financial crisis and subsequent credit squeeze, on top of drought, have exacerbated the incapacity of rural employers to absorb further cost increases to their businesses. Many are left with no option but to terminate staff, typically affecting juniors and trainees," Crombie says.

"For this reason our submission to the AFPC, lodged today, calls for no increase in minimum wages or Pay Scale classifications."

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