The union movement is pushing for the national minimum wage to be raised by 5 per cent, which would lift the minimum hourly rate by $1.02 to $21.35.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus said a 2 per cent increase in the minimum wage “would mean a real wage cut for a quarter of the workforce”.
“The Morrison government has a choice: Are they on the side of workers keeping up with the cost of living or are they on the side of these employers who want wage cuts?” Ms McManus said.
But Mr Willox said the ACTU’s proposed increase “would wreak substantial economic damage, destroy the jobs of thousands of employees, reverse the recent strong growth in full-time employment and inflict lower hours of work on many part-time employees”.
The Master Grocers Association, which represents brands such as IGA, FoodWorks and hardware chain Mitre 10, is warning against any increase in the minimum wage after the government spruiked real wage growth in Tuesday’s federal budget.
Labour market expert Professor John Buchanan, from the University of Sydney Business School, said employers “had cried wolf too many times”.
“We now have a serious imbalance where the lower half of the population has not shared in the other’s prosperity and is having trouble with housing stress and making ends meet,” he said.
Superannuation and Financial Services Minister Jane Hume said on Thursday the government would not make a recommendation on what the minimum wage should be, while shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the opposition supported a wage rise but would not nominate a figure.
“We don’t vigorously recommend … what we do is make sure that the Fair Work Commission has all the information that is available to the government on the macro and micro-economic settings around the decision,” Senator Hume said.
The government has temporarily cut the fuel excise and promised $250 handouts to various welfare recipients but has been criticised for trying to buy votes in the upcoming election with short-term relief.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said this week low unemployment figures and a tight labour market would force employers to be competitive in attracting staff, which would in turn lift wages.
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