Labor has urged the industrial umpire to lift the minimum wage but won’t nominate a figure, prompting grave warnings from the coalition about job losses and economic damage.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor workplace spokesman Brendan O’Connor have released their submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review.
They say no Australian working full-time should be living in poverty, noting productivity has expanded four times faster than wages since 2013, while company profits have grown five times faster than wages since 2016.
Labor’s submission says the commission panel reviewing the minimum wage is “constrained by the current legislative provisions” in the strongest signal yet the law could change if Labor wins the federal election.
“The parameters of the Fair Work Commission are such that it is difficult for the commission to consider a living wage,” Mr O’Connor told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.
He said there was no evidence a wage increase above inflation would have adverse impacts on the economy.
“What we want is a fair, responsible but real wage increase for Australian workers,” he said.
“Everything in this country is going up except for wages. That should change. It will change if we see the election of a Labor government.”
On Friday, the government provided a submission to the commission which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described as “factual information” for the panel to consider.
“The key to lifting wages is a strong economy, greater competition for labour and higher productivity,” Mr Frydenberg said in a statement.
He said while 1.2 million jobs had been created since 2013, the minimum wage had increased every year averaging one per cent above inflation.
“This is more than double the average increase seen under Labor,” the treasurer said.
“Indeed, the real minimum wage fell under Labor on numerous occasions.”
Mr O’Connor said lifting the minimum wage would stimulate the economy, arguing the link between hard work and a fair reward was broken.
Labor pointed to the UK as proof a higher minimum wage won’t push more people into unemployment.
That runs contrary to what the Fair Work Commission said in its decision last year, when it found the large increase to the minimum wage – needed to lift all workers out of poverty – would come with a substantial risk of job losses or reduced hours.
Earlier in the week, unions called for a $43-a-week increase in the minimum wage, which equates to six per cent, while leading business lobbyist Australian Industry Group advocated a two per cent rise.