ACOSS welcomes the opportunity take part in the formal consultative process on the Government’s workplace relations legislation. The legislation provides an opportunity to better support Australians living on low incomes, for whom robust rates of minimum pay and fair employment conditions are particularly important.
The consultation on the needs of low income Australians will help to ensure that their needs are well represented in the process of finalising the legislation.
The incidence of low pay is relatively high among young people, women, low skilled workers in service industries, and in rural and regional areas. Most low paid employees fall within the bottom half (by disposable income) of households of workforce age. Many low paid workers are employed in community sector organisations in industries such as aged care and child care.
ABS figures reveal a widening income gap over the period from 1994-95 to 2005-06. There was a 31% increase in the real mean income of low income people, compared to 32% for middle income people and 36% for high income people over this period.
Recent research using focus groups of employees from low paid households suggests that budgeting on minimum wages is a struggle for these households. They must forego items that most wage earning households expect, such as dental care, annual holidays, a car, eating out with friends and buying a home.
The combination of the previous Government’s Work Choices and Welfare to Work policies placed vulnerable Australians at increased risk of living in poverty.
Despite the strong economic performance of the past 12 years, the number of Australians living below the poverty line increased from 7.4% to 11.1% between 1994 and 2006. Over 250,000 people in wage earning households were living below the poverty line. These are mainly families with children.
With more than 1 in 10 Australians living in poverty, the workplace relations legislation will be crucial in ensuring a fair go for Australians and increasing social inclusion.