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ACTU seeks minimum wage increase because of increasing petrol prices.

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Monday, 19 September 2005


TONY EASTLEY:  Increasing petrol prices have prompted the union movement to prepare a new wage claim for Australia’s lowest paid workers. The ACTU is expected to ask for a pay rise of between $22 and $24 a week for the one-and-a-half million workers who are paid the minimum wage in Australia of $484 a week. It’ll soon lodge the claim in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission even though the federal government is preparing to strip the commission of its power to grant pay rises.


Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has labelled the pay claim a stunt and hopes the IRC will not take the case on. From Canberra Kim Landers reports.


KIM LANDERS:   In June, Australia’s lowest paid workers won a $17 a week pay rise in what was widely expected to be the last decision from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. But in a surprise move, the ACTU is launching another minimum wage case, this time seeking between $22 and $24 a week. Employers said the last pay rise was too high and Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group describes this looming pay claim as a diversionary tactic.


HEATHER RIDOUT:   Well, I think it’s a bit of a furphy really. The process usually goes that they lodge a claim around November. It comes on for mention in December and then the case goes on early next year, sort of around May, April, and then the award is made; this year was it at the 8 th June.


KIM LANDERS:   The ACTU leadership seems to be suggesting that they need to make a claim now because of soaring petrol prices, rising inflation and the fact that the government’s new Fair Pay Commission won’t be in place for some time.


HEATHER RIDOUT:   Well, the government has announced that the new body will be established early next year along with the rest of their legislation. And in terms of the impact on petrol prices, frankly, business could be arguing in any case that the impact on them is such that it really restricts their ability to give a wage increase. So (a) the new body will be there; it has to be established; it’s going to have a broader ambit in terms of what it can do. It would have to take into account all those factors but, from a business point of view, we would argue hardship from petrol increases rather than more generosity.


KIM LANDERS:   The government is determined to abolish the IRC’s right to grant wage rises, giving the power instead to the yet-to-be-established Fair Pay Commission. Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews labels the new union pay claim a stunt and is hoping the Industrial Relations Commission doesn’t take the case on.


KEVIN ANDREWS:   We’ve made it clear that this year’s IRC decision was the last. From now on the Fair Pay Commission will be establishing minimum wages and we propose to move forward on that basis.


KIM LANDERS:   How do you stop the IRC, though, taking on this case if the union lodges this claim?


KEVIN ANDREWS:   Well, the legislation will be in the parliament sometime in October. It’ll be through the parliament, we believe, by the end of the year. The IRC would take account of that and, if necessary, we would make a submission to the IRC saying that this is what the government was doing and that we expected the parliament to pass this legislation.


KIM LANDERS:   So could you actually direct or stop the IRC from beginning to hear this case in taking submissions or would you just hope that they would come to that decision on their own accord?


KEVIN ANDREWS:   Well, I believe that the IRC would obviously look at the legislative parameters that were around at the time. We’d look at what’s happening in terms of the parliament, would be sensible and say, ‘Well, if there is a bill in the parliament, we shouldn’t be doing something whilst that bill’s in the parliament in order to wait and see what the outcome of it was’. So that would be the sensible thing to do rather than just play along with the stunt.


KIM LANDERS:   Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan has told Channel 9 the government’s tactics are dubious.


WAYNE SWAN:   The federal government wants to reduce the wages of the lowest paid in the community and therefore it is holding up any further submissions to the commission about the living wage or the minimum wage.


TONY EASTLEY:  Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan ending that report from Kim Landers.