Workers’ wage rises lowest on record

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has maintained the Abbott Government's abysmal wage record (Screenshot via YouTube)

The latest official wage growth figures show Australian workers are still missing out on their share. Alan Austin reports.

THE WAGES SLUMP the Abbott Government plunged Australia into back in 2014 is now firmly entrenched. More than five years after the first failed budget by disgraced former Coalition Treasurer, Joe Hockey, workers’ wages are increasing at the lowest rates since records have been kept. It is unlikely there has been a worse period in Australia’s history for workers receiving a fair share of the nation’s vast wealth.

This dismal news emerged from the quarterly wages figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) last Wednesday.

The increase in wages over the workforce as a whole was just 2.41% for the year to the end of June*. With inflation over the year at 1.59%, that is a real increase of just 0.82% for all workers across the nation, in both private and government jobs.

We know from company reports that high-income executive salaries are soaring as corporations are generating record profits. So are senior academic and other professional salaries. This means many low-paid workers, probably the majority, have received either no rise at all or have seen their wages decline in real terms.

A figure caption for your reading pleasure

Historical lows

The financial year to 30 June just ended is the fifth consecutive year through which wages have risen by less than 2.5%. This has never happened before the 2013 Election. Not once. Let alone five times in a row.

The average wage increase over the 16 years for which we have ABS records before the 2013 change of government, was 3.56%.

The rise in the Coalition’s transition year, 2013-14, was just 2.6%. That was the lowest on record at the time. It has been below that every year since. The average over the last five Coalition financial years is just 2.15%.

Private versus government

The wages rise over the last financial year was 2.66% for government employees, but just 2.27% in the private sector. This confirms corporations are now free to do pretty much whatever they want without regard for either workers’ wellbeing or the health of the economy.

There was a significant difference in public wage increases between Labor and Coalition states. The five states and territories with Labor governments averaged wage growth of 2.48%. These are Victoria, with an impressive 3.7% lift, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT. The three Coalition states, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania, increased public sector wages by an average of just 1.77% — close to zero after inflation.

Global comparisons

Tradingeconomics.com has data on wage growth for 30 developed countries, current to March or June this year for most. The average rise after allowing for inflation is 2.27%.

Australia’s puny 0.82% ranks a dismal 21st out of those 30 countries. Down in the bottom one third.

Ireland, Cyprus and Poland are all above 2%. The USA, Spain and Portugal are above 3.5%. Estonia and Hungary are above 5%. All these economies are enjoying stronger annual GDP growth than Australia and most have lower jobless rates.

Confirmation from the OECD

The gloomy message from Trading Economics is bolstered by other authorities. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is the club of 36 developed mixed capitalist economies. Every two or three years, the OECD issues a detailed analysis of advances – or retreats – the major developed countries are making on critical social issues. Titled Society at a Glance, this includes a graph showing the rankings of member countries on household income.

The 2019 edition shows the rankings for 2016 which has Australia in seventh place [See chart below]. The previous edition showed Australia’s ranking in 2013 at fourth place, behind only Norway, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

A figure caption for your reading pleasure

Clearly, Australia is tumbling down this ladder, as with virtually all rankings which reflect sound economic management and the welfare of citizens.

We must wait another year or two for the ranking for 2018 and 2019. Given last week’s ABS data, this will almost certainly be well below seventh.

Why is this happening in Australia?

There is no excuse for Australia to be lagging the rest of the developed world so badly. This is not good for working families. It is not good for the economy. It is not good for Australia’s future.

There is no rational economic argument for keeping workers’ wages depressed during the current global expansion in investment, growth, jobs and profits.

Australia’s export trade is booming with iron ore, gold and wool all at five or ten year high prices. Volumes in many commodities are now at or near all-time records. The trade surplus is now almost four times the highest level reached under any previous government at an extraordinary $8.04 billion!

This is the time when workers should be earning a fair share of the nation’s vast wealth and investing in homes for now and superannuation for the future. The nation should be investing in the quality of life for all citizens now – especially those doing it tough – and in infrastructure for the future.

It seems the rich foreign controllers of the Coalition parties have decided to grasp as much as they can while they can and to hell with the Australian people. Because eventually, surely, one day, citizens must wake up to what is going on and call a halt.

* The ABS provides seasonally adjusted figures for only some wages files. So for consistency, this article has used original figures throughout. The difference between the two sets of data – original and seasonally adjusted – is not significant.

You can follow Alan Austin& on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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