McManus says disappointing pay rise short-changes workers

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ACTU secretary Sally McManus is disappointed the FWC's meagre pay rise will be staggered across awards (Screenshot via YouTube)

Fair Work Commission's paltry pay rise will leave many Australian workers struggling to feed their families. William Olson reports.

THE GOOD NEWS coming out of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from its Annual Wage Review 2019-20: a pay rise is coming.

The bad news: it is only going to amount to a mere 1.75% increase on the old average minimum wage — or $13 per week. This brings the national average minimum wage up to $19.84 per hour — or $753.80 per week. Hardly a cause for celebration for those on the minimum wage.

And even worse news: depending on one’s award, the remaining round of penalty rate cuts – from the FWC’s ruling on penalty rates, which came out a few years ago – may cancel out that paltry pay hike.

And still even worse news: also depending on one’s award, there is no telling when that pay rise will affect any single segment of workers.

For example:

  • on 1 July 2020, frontline healthcare, social assistance, teachers, childcare and early childhood educators will receive their increases first;
  • on 1 September 2020, construction, manufacturing and related industries will receive their increases; and 
  • on 1 February 2021, accommodation, food services, the arts, recreation, aviation, retail and tourism are due to get their pay rises last.

In other words, not all at once — unlike the usual protocol, which has been observed every other year.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which had been pushing for a 4% pay rise – equivalent to a $30 per week hike to the minimum wage – has rightly hit out at the FWC’s ruling. The decision only renders at worst a 34 cents per hour pay rise (based on a minimum-wage worker’s 38-hour working week).

After the FWC's recent ruling, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said:

'This is a very modest increase and it is disappointing that several awards will not see any increase until November or February.'

However, McManus also acknowledged that the FWC’s ruling could have been a lot worse. Given the extraordinary double-whammy of a recession occurring in the middle of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, the FWC could have easily ruled for minimum wage freezes or cuts on their own — a position which a number of business groups had lobbied for.

McManus added:

' ...it is clear in the decision that this panel of experts recognises that cutting wages in the middle of this crisis would be a disaster for working people and the economy...'

McManus and the ACTU have further remained on the front foot, appealing to the Morrison Government to protect jobs while making moves to stimulate the Australian economy, stating:

'Wage cuts are confidence killers which hurt business and job creation.'

McManus proposed further suggestions geared at boosting the economy:

If wages are not increasing for award dependent workers, this means the Government must play a bigger role in stimulating the economy.


This is why they must not cut JobKeeper or JobSeeker in September. The Federal Government must use its spending power to bring the country out of the recession. They must invest in job creation through infrastructure development, supporting local manufacturing and public sector jobs. 

Meanwhile, those within the union movement remain unhappy with the outcome of the FWC’s ruling — standing by the 4% increase which the ACTU had been pushing for.

The national president of the United Workers Union (UWUJo-anne Schofield said:

'Many essential workers are also some of Australia's lowest-paid. Australia has been able to manage the public health crisis of COVID-19 because of the frontline workers we have all relied on.


Countless United Workers Union members have worked during the pandemic for less than they would have received under JobKeeper — and many are supporting families on their low wages.'

Ultimately, union members are among those who benefit from any pay rise and will put it right back into the economy — and currently, the economy needs every little boost that it can get.

Schofield and other union leaders argue that more can indeed be merrier.

Schofield said:

'Minimum wage increases are not saved, they are spent in local businesses. Staggering the payments pulls spending out of the economy at a time when it is desperately needed.'

Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) – the union governing retail, fast food and warehousing industries – stated

'A wage freeze for the next seven months is no way to thank those brave retail workers who continued to serve the Australian community during the height of the COVID crisis, risking their health and safety to ensure families had food on their tables, medicines to keep them healthy and fuel to fill their vehicles.'

As far as the penalty rate cuts due to hit on 1 July are concerned – where those on the Hospitality Industry (General) and Fast Food Industry awards had their final cuts at the start of the 2019-20 financial year – the 2020-21 financial year marks the final year of cuts for those on other awards.

And they are due to hit on 1 July 2020, without fail — recession or no recession, pandemic or no pandemic.

Dwyer has also said that the SDA – which, alongside entities like the UWU is among the nation’s largest member-driven public sector trade unions – plans on putting in an appeal to the FWC to delay penalty rate cuts to coincide with the staggered timing of the paltry pay rises.

Dwyer cites that the timing of the penalty rate cuts specific to workers who fall under the SDA’s umbrella lacks consistency with the FWC’s original decision on cutting penalty rates back in 2017.

As such, if nothing changes, his union’s members will endure a 5% to 15% cut to their Sunday penalty rates in July – depending upon each industry on a case-by-case basis – and then the pay rises will come into effect in the September and February intervals.

When those pay rises do come in for SDA members, every chance exists that some may be making a lower hourly wage than they did on paper at the end of the 2019-20 financial year.

Dwyer was emphatic:

'Delaying the minimum wage increase for retail workers – a sector dominated by women and young people, who have been disproportionately disadvantaged during the height of the pandemic – while other "essential service" workers receive a pay rise from July 1st, is not only unfair it is an insult.'

Which is exactly how all workers should feel about the paltry padding to their pay packets... positively perplexed!

William Olson is a freelance journalist and hospitality professional. You can follow William on Twitter @DeadSexyWaiter.

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