CANBERRA, AAP – The head of Australia’s union movement believes if Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe thinks there is a problem with wages growth, the issue is clearly at a crisis point.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus says slow wage growth cannot be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a speech to the Australia Institute, she said annual wage growth had averaged two per cent since 2013, coinciding with the election of the federal coalition government.

She says two per cent is barely half the pace of traditional wage growth in Australia and is even weaker in the private sector.

“Contrary to the comforting, rose-coloured forecasts of the government and business economists, it wasn’t a short-term blip,” she said

“It’s now a well established trend.”

She said for eight years the government had been predicting in the federal budget a rebound in wage growth, and every year the government was wrong.

The latest budget forecasts wages to grow below the rate of inflation in 2020/21 and 2021/22 and merely match it in 2022/23.

“In other words, even the government expects the real standard of living of Australian workers to fall,” Ms McManus said.

“We can’t let the government and employers use COVID as the scapegoat, when their own failures were obvious for many years.”

In two weeks time, the Australian union movement will come together for its biennial congress where delegates will thrash out its policy and direction.

A federal election is also due by May next year.

“There is no sign that things will get any better, without deliberate and concerted actions to make it so,” Ms McManus said.

“We will hold this government accountable on the issue of workers wages and we will keep fighting for better laws.”

Ms McManus was earlier asked on ABC radio for her thoughts on the latest lockdown support package agreed between the federal and NSW governments which require businesses to keep staff on the books.

“I read the details and I couldn’t really see how employers would need to keep their workers,” she said.

Ms McManus believes the JobKeeper model – where payments were made to employees through their employers – was a far better system.

“There is no guarantee your job will actually be kept so it’s a really inferior program and it’s very disappointing they’ve decided to abandon something that actually worked,” she said.