Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has suggested the government will again push for an increase to the minimum wage in line with the high rate of inflation as Australians grapple with rising living costs.
Burke told ABC radio’s on Tuesday Labor’s values had not changed since its previous submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review, which was lodged following then opposition leader Anthony Albanese declaring he “absolutely” supported a rise to meet headline inflation during the election.
Asked whether he would use the same word, and back a minimum wage increase to keep up with inflation, Burke said, “you never photocopy a submission one year to the next”.
“They’re never identical in every way. But as I’ve said, our values haven’t changed, and what you’ve referred to there is a pretty strong value statement from the prime minister,” Burke said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics announced on Tuesday that monthly inflation was at 6.8 per cent, down from 7.4 per cent in January.
Rising costs of goods and services, combined with the 10 successive interest-rate rises handed down by the Reserve Bank since last May, have continued to put pressure on household budgets.
“The thing that we have to work our way through is there are some members of the workforce who have the least room to move with what’s been happening with inflation,” Burke said.
“No government ever wants anyone to go backwards, but last year we put forward the principle that the focus needed to be on the people on the lowest incomes because they had the least savings, they had the least room to move.”
The government credited its previous submission, in which it did not nominate a figure but asserted low earners should not be left behind, with the Fair Work Commission handing down a 5.2 per cent wage rise, above the then 5.1 headline inflation rate.
That resulted in an increase in the hourly rate from $20.33 to $21.38, equivalent to a pay raise of $40 a week, taking the weekly minimum pay to $812.60.
Asked whether this year’s submission, to be lodged on Friday, would be in keeping with his belief that the minimum wage should keep up with inflation, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a press conference the government would act in a way that was “absolutely consistent with our values.”
“And what we don’t do in submissions, [as] we didn’t do it last time, was put a dollar figure on that,” he said.
Asked whether the submission would show more restraint than the previous one, given the higher rate of inflation, Albanese said, “it will be consistent with our values.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil told the National Press Club on Tuesday the peak body’s influential submission would be released within days, “and we’re always going to ask the federal government to back that in”.
Earlier this year, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the government needed to consider maintaining real wages.
“The principle that they should be supporting is an increase that maintains the real value of the wages of low-paid workers,” McManus said.
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