Australia’s poorest people need the government to ramp up the minimum wage and match the step with a boost to the dole, the social services sector says.
The current minimum wage of $37,400 is too far from what people earn on average, the Australian Council of Social Services argues.
But a business body – the Australian Industry Group – says the minimum wage should only be increased modestly, as the economy appears to be set to grow more slowly for some time.
The groups have each pressed their case through submissions to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review.
ACOSS is calling for both a ‘substantial increase’ to the minimum wage and a $75-a-week lift to Newstart.
Council chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the existing daily rate of the unemployment payment was equivalent to just two hours of work at the minimum wage.
‘We need government and business to both play their part for people on the lowest 40 per cent of incomes – both people relying on income support and wage earners, who in reality are often the same people at different stages of life, sometimes week to week,’ she said.
ACOSS wants the commission to also start making regular comparisons of the living standards of minimum wage-earning households against a benchmark of a ‘decent basic living standard’ for a single adult.
The Ai Group says the minimum wage should be lifted by two per cent this year – marking an increase of about $14.40 per week to the current level of $719.20.
That would be less than the increases of the past two years of 3.3 per cent and 3.5 per cent, but is warranted because the economy has moved back into the ‘slow lane’, it argues.
‘Businesses are struggling to cope with high and rising input costs, especially energy costs,’ its submission says.
‘Now is not the time for risky movements in minimum wages.’
The Catholic Church’s submission is more in line with that of ACOSS, saying neither governments nor employers are doing enough to support low-paid Australians.
‘What was an inadequate wage for a family two decades ago has become a reasonable wage for a single adult without family responsibilities. That is simply unacceptable,’ said Megan Kavanagh, a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference employment relations reference group.
The bishops conference has called for the minimum wage to be lifted to $760 a week, or $20 an hour.
The Newstart allowance for a single person with no children is $275 a week.