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First ACTU president since Hawke to present minimum wage case: Workplace Express


For the first time in four decades, the ACTU will tomorrow roll out its president to make final submissions to the FWC's annual wage review as it seeks to buttress the union movement and Labor Party's focus on a "living wage" ahead of Saturday's Federal election. 

Michele O'Neil will become the ACTU's first president since Bob Hawke to address the panel as she argues for a 6% increase to the current minimum wage of $18.93 per hour, or $719.20 per week. 

O'Neil's debut before the Commission's panel stands in stark contrast to Hawke, who spent a decade as the ACTU's advocate in the national wage case before being elected president in 1969. 

"We will argue for a 6% increase this year, but we know the real solution is to change the rules that determine how the minimum wage is set," said O'Neil. 

"The minimum wage should not just be enough to stop you starving, it should be enough to provide for a decent life for all full-time workers." 

Labor has pledged to change the FWC's guidelines for setting the minimum wage, but has yet to commit to the ACTU call for it to be pegged at 60% of the median wage (see Related Article). 

The ALP has instead said it will consult over the change if it wins the election, leaving the 2019 minimum wage review decided under the current rules. 

While the ACTU's submission would result in an extra $43 a week for Australia's lowest-paid workers, O'Neil will also argue that the FWC should look to lift the minimum wage to 60% of median earnings over two years, with a further 5.5% increase in 2020. 

However, ACTU secretary Sally McManus conceded in March that the chances of the Commission's expert panel awarding a 6% increase were "not massive". 

In 2017, the FWC rejected a union application to set medium-term targets for the minimum wage, saying it could not set a "hard" target, because it "cannot bind future panels" (see Related Article). 

Last year, after the ACTU sought a 7.2% increase in the minimum wage, the Commission awarded a 3.5% increase, the biggest rise since 2010. 

The Commission nonetheless conceded the 3.5% increase would not lift all NMW and award-reliant employees out of poverty, saying that immediately granting a rise of that magnitude was "likely to run a substantial risk of adverse employment effects". 

Before the ACTU's appearance in Sydney tomorrow – alongside the Ai Group, the National Retail Association, the AWU and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference – the FWC's expert panel will today in Melbourne hear from the Commonwealth and the ACCI. 

ACCI has called for a 1.8% increase in the minimum wage this year, while the Ai Group has suggested an increase of 2%. 

In their final submissions, employer groups are expected to cite the annual inflation rate falling to 1.3% in the March quarter and forecast weaker GDP.

Via Workplace Express, read the article here