Flood and cyclone-stricken Queensland employers are pushing for a 12-month deferral of any minimum wage rise approved by Fair Work Australia.
Last week, the Australian Council of Trade Unions announced it will seek a pay rise of $28 a week for the nation’s lowest paid workers, along with a 4.2% increase for higher skilled workers.
If successful, the percentage claim will translate into rises for higher skilled workers of between $28.70 and $37.70 a week.
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence says Australia’s strong economic growth should not be a “spectator sport” for low paid workers, arguing the union’s claim is “modest and affordable” and is unlikely to impact employment.
The union push has prompted the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland to appeal to FWA for a deferral in minimum wages of no more than $10 a week until July 2012 instead of July 2011.
The CCIQ says businesses need a deferred rise to recover from the floods and Cyclone Yasi, and to maintain employment levels.
“The recent natural disasters, which has seen 99% of the state disaster-declared, will only serve to further negatively compound what is a very difficult trading environment for Queensland businesses at present,” the CCIQ says.
“Queensland businesses are currently not in a position to absorb any increase in wage levels.”
The CCIQ has won the support of the Australian Industry Group, which lodged two proposals in its submission to FWA.
The first proposal states that the minimum wage only be increased by $14 – half the amount proposed by the ACTU – due to Australia’s recovering economy, the recent natural disasters, and global uncertainty surrounding events in Japan and the Middle East.
The second proposal states that “exceptional circumstances should be invoked by employers who have been badly affected by the recent natural disasters”.
But the Queensland Government says it supports “responsible pay increases” and that protecting low paid workers is even more important in the wake of the natural disasters.
The Federal Government has also indicated its support for a wage increase, with a spokesperson for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans agreeing with the sentiment that low paid workers should be able to share in Australia’s growing prosperity.
Meanwhile, the Australian Retailers Association has made its own submission to FWA, calling for special consideration of retail conditions and an exemption of award-reliant businesses from any minimum wage increase.
ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman says the FWA panel must give consideration to poor trading conditions specific to the retail sector’s “incapacity to cope” with further increased wage bills.
“Lumping the retail sector in the same category as other award-reliant industries is unreasonable considering the retailers are operating in the slowest gear of a two-speed economy, as well as facing wage bill increases due to the second transition to the modern award already set for July 1,” Zimmerman says.