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2008 National Wage Case: An extra $21.66 per week. ACCI shocked
2008 National Wage Case: An extra $21.66 per week. ACCI shocked
It’s almost delicious. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is, as I write, undergoing its annual tearing out of the hair and rending asunder of its opulent board room curtaining. Yes, you guessed it: the Australian Fair Pay Commission has ruled on the latest National Wage case. It has awarded an increase of $21.66 per week to those “pay scale reliant” low paid Australian workers.
“Pay scale reliant” is code for those paid at a rate prescribed by an award. Thus a worker engaged under the benchmark Metals, Engineering and Associated Industries Award must be paid a minimum weekly wage of $543.78 or $14.31 per hour. This is now the federal “minimum wage”.
The reaction from The ACCI has been predictable. It is forecasting that this increase will flow into price increases and, obviously, fuel inflation. It had wanted something limited to last year’s ruling at tops and preferably under. Its argument for this is that wages are a function of money paid to workers and tax cuts granted by the government. It claimed that something near to or fewer than ten dollars plus the government’s tax cuts would be sufficient. This is a position it has advocated religiously. No matter that tax cuts are not wages; the government does not “pay” workers via tax cuts.
The ACCI position is:
In other words, prices go up, inflation goes up and the economy will not support it (= loss of jobs). Sound familiar?
In other words: unaffordable, irresponsible and dangerous to the economy, which will suffer irreparable damage if anything above the ACCI’s recommendation is awarded. In all those years (and those the ACCI opposed prior) the economy sailed on and the jobs market became tighter. Indeed, this has been the case since the early nineties.
That last – the harping about inflation – is another theme run each year (about which more later). The ACCI, though, has another hobbyhorse when it comes to these hearings and this is very close to its corporate wallet: the “safety-net”. You see, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission always saw the minimum wage as the safety net for Australian workers. Well aware that many Australian wage earners had moved into Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs), it saw its remit as seeing to those pegged to awards. These became the minimum across industries to which those awards applied and where workers were not covered by an EBA. The ACCI has constantly chaffed at this interpretation. A safety net should be, apparently, an absolute minimum and nothing near to a real wage. Anything that might make it a “real wage” should be made up by government in social money. From its submission to the 2007 hearing its schoolmarm disappointment is obvious:
Evidently our Federal minimum is going far beyond its purview of a "safety-net" and the AFPC is not following the programme. Indeed, it is a most "pervasive" critter and needs to be dealt with. Note the pointed barb to the AFPC's duty to WorkChoices. So, given the pervasive and non-genuine nature of our safety net, what does the ACCI suggest? It suggests that the AFPC "moderate minimum wage increases, to err on the side of caution and on the side of less frequent and less expansive minimum wage uprating". In reality, that schoolmarm little aside to the AFPC regarding what it "must advance under the Workplace Relations Act 1996" is a strong indication that the ACCI wants what it sees as Australia's "pervasive" and "detrimental" safety net gelded before it becomes even more "inflated". If it can't go backwards, the ACCI would love it pegged right where it is now, ever shall be, reviews without end, amen. If not then "any minimum wage increase should apply only to the federal minimum wage. Increases above this level should be by workplace determination and bargaining".
Given the current AFPC decision, it would seem that the ACCI has, again, been sorely disappointed by the child of WorkChoices. With a new and less sympathetic federal government, the tone of the ACCI’s reaction seems one of resignation. This is understandable as, in my opinion, this government will not substantially alter the nature of this federal “umpire” (even if it returns its remit to AIRC), nor the federal IR system that now underpins it: it works well enough. It remains an interesting fact though that only what a federal umpire awards to those paid on minimum award wages feeds directly into prices, inflation, et al but not ever the fat packets of those that populate the boardroom of the ACCI. Those at the bottom of the pecking order are responsible – should they attain a pay rise – for all economic ills. Just as it those same individuals that must bear the brunt of the bluntest of economic levers – interest rates – because they are “spending far too much”.
This brings me to that aforementioned proclivity of the ACCI with inflation. The ACCI constantly compares these pay rises in percentage terms to the rate of CPI. It then, every year, claims that the rises are ahead of inflation and therefore are unaffordable and inflationary. A clue to its logic is in its reaction to the 2006 decision:
You see the ACCI always uses the underlying inflation rate, not the “headline” rate. That is the rate that either severely discounts or ignores volatiles such as petrol, rent, some foodstuffs and the like. Problem is, when the low paid worker rocks up to the pump to fill his car his petrol price is not discounted or ignored. Nor does his real estate agent discount his rent increase in line with “underlying inflation”. No, these people pay those volatiles at the prices asked.
Yet another gem in that 2006 release is this:
Meaning one shouldn’t compensate “in perpetuity” for the fact that eighteen months rather than twelve months had passed since the last increase. Presumably it is fine to treat it as twelve months and ignore “in perpetuity” the other six months.
What is delicious though – and which sums up the ACCI’s abject disappointment with this child of WorkChoices – is this appended to the 2005 critique of the last decision by the AIRC:
This – the AFPC – was to be the forum where the ACCI would take back the high ground. The AFPC – a creature of Work Choices – would provide the home ground advantage.
The utter surprise at the first decision and the awful disappointment that has settled over the ACCI since is palpable. Howard and Costello’s baby shows a family heritage which owes much to a visiting tradesman or his apprentice.