ACTU pushes wage increases for workers

Transport operators face a 4.2 percent rise in wages from July this year under a union proposal

March 18, 2011

Transport operators will begin paying higher wages from July this year if a union proposal to keep pace with living costs is accepted.

The ACTU wants Fair Work Australia to increase pay for workers on awards by 4.2 percent as part of its annual wage review process. The union also wants the minimum wage increased by $28 to $597.90 a week.

The ACTU’s 4.2 percent recommendation will affect drivers employed under the Road Transport and Distribution Award and the Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence says household living costs increased by 4.5 percent last year and the union is attempting to bridge the gap.

He says a $28 increase to the minimum wage is affordable and will have little impact on inflation and labour costs. Fair Work Australia last year increased the minimum wage by $26.

"An extra $28 a week is modest in comparison to the growing gap between what minimum wage earners are paid and what companies are earning in profits," Lawrence says.

Business groups have rejected the proposal, with the Australian Industry Group saying Fair Work must consider the lingering effects of the global financial crisis and current instability in Japan and the Middle East.

It says award wages and the minimum wage should increase by $14 and that businesses badly affected by recent natural disasters should be able to delay the increase until January 1, 2012.

"Fair Work Australia needs to take a cautious approach this year in adjusting minimum wages," Ai Group CEO Heather Ridout says.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) is urging Fair Work to act frugally. It claims a $9.50 increase in the minimum wage is more than enough.

But like the Ai Group, the ACCI says disaster-affected businesses should be able to defer the increases.

In a survey of its membership, the ACCI says 51 percent supported an increase of $10 per week or no increase. It says 21 percent support an increase above $10, while 18 percent were undecided.

ACCI CEO Peter Anderson says the group’s proposal is fair to low income workers. He accused the ACTU of "treating Australian small and medium businesses as cash cows ready to be milked".

Anderson claims the ACTU’s proposal will add at least $3.6 billion to the annual wages bill of employers.

Similar to comments made by the Ai Group, Anderson says the economy is still recovering from the global financial crisis.

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