Pay, inequality creep onto election agenda

14_Pay_ inequality creep onto election agenda

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer
(Australian Associated Press)

Fair pay and inequality are poised to become election issues.

The Fair Work Commission is expected to release its decision on the minimum wage next week, as business groups and unions seek to make their mark on the federal election campaign.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday released a 10-point economic plan, while unions have been making thousands of phone calls in a national campaign to have voters put the Liberal-National coalition last.

The minimum wage sits at $656.90 a week or $17.29 an hour.

Unions want a $30 a week increase and business and industry say the rise should be between $7.90 and $10.50 a week.

ACTU president Ged Kearney, who has been touring regional Queensland in the past week, told AAP there was strong support for a decent minimum wage, which was a sleeper issue in the election campaign.

“People value the minimum wage,” she said.

“We know we have a decent floor in this country, but they also know it is getting harder to make ends meet on the minimum wage because the gap between the average wage and minimum wage is rising.

“The feeling we are becoming a less equal society is really beginning to bite.”

While the blocking of laws to restore the building industry watchdog was the reason for the double-dissolution election, industrial relations has yet to become an election topic.

Ms Kearney said union research showed voters did not see the Australian Building and Construction Commission as an issue.

But they were concerned about penalty rates, secure jobs, health care and how their children will get the training and skills they need to enter the workforce.

ACCI chief James Pearson said giving managers and workers the flexibility to “reach workplace arrangements that suit their needs” was one of the top issues for the next government.

“Australia’s global competitiveness must improve or we risk sacrificing the high living standards which we, our parents and our children have come to expect,” he said, launching ACCI’s plan.

Unions are also detecting concern about the benefits of free trade deals being overstated by the government.

“Our message for any government – Labor, Liberal or whatever is the same – do not trade away jobs,” Ms Kearney said.

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