Minimum Wage Case
The Hon. IAN WEST: My question is addressed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the Minister inform the House of the outcome of the minimum wage case 2003?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I thank the honourable member for his ongoing interest in industrial relations matters. Yesterday the Australian Industrial Relations Commission handed down its decision on the minimum wage case 2003. The commission received a range of submissions and considered them carefully. It took into account the economic climate throughout the nation, the capacity to pay, the needs of low paid workers and, of course, particular factors like the drought. The commission has announced a $17 per week increase to award rates up to and including $731.80 per week and a $15 increase in award rates above $731.80 per week. This decision increases the Federal weekly minimum wage to $448.40 per week.
Honourable members will recall that the New South Wales Government intervened in this case and asked the Federal commission to grant an increase of $18 per week to the minimum wage and all award rates. The submission was in response to the Australian Council of Trade Unions' claim for $24.60 and was premised on the current state of the New South Wales and Australian economies, as well as the need to address the genuine needs of Australia's low paid workers. The commission's decision to grant $17 vindicates the balanced position adopted by the New South Wales Government and provides a genuine boost to more than 500,000 New South Wales workers, while remaining affordable for the economy.
Contrast this position with that of Tony Abbott and the Howard Federal Government. For a start, Mr Abbott submitted that low paid workers, on a minimum wage of $11.35 per hour, should only receive an increase of $12 per week or an additional 32¢ per hour. Mr Abbott proposed that any increases awarded beyond that should be capped or subjected to a phase-in period of up to 18 months. To top it off, he then introduced the deceitfully titled Workplace Relations Amendment (Protecting the Low Paid) Bill, which I told honourable members last week was a reference that could hardly be further from the truth. That bill seeks to nobble the independent umpire and drive down real increases to the minimum wage.
Yesterday's decision demonstrates that the commission already exercises its discretion responsibly by taking into consideration a wide range of matters, including economic effects and impacts on employment levels. It provides a reasonable balance between the concerns of workers and employers. Once again, I urge Tony Abbott to withdraw this bill, a bill that will benefit nobody, least of all low paid workers. The New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission has listed the State wage case for 26 and 27 May. The State Government will press the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission to flow on the increase to workers on State awards without a cap and without a phase-in period.