||Issue No. 326||29 September 2006|
Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
Unions: Industrial Wasteland
International: Two Bob's Worth
Economics: National Interest
Environment: The Real Dinosaur
History: Only In Spain?
Review: Clerk Off
His hourly rate of $16.50 didn't stretch far two years ago. Now, having received no pay rise in that time, he can feel his pay packet shrinking.
"Petrol prices have gone up, interest rates have gone up a few times, but my real wages are going backwards," says Archer, who's employed by maintenance contractor Harnleigh Facilities Management.
Archer's not alone. Average weekly earnings failed to keep pace with inflation over the last year, according to an ACTU analysis of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
"Average earnings in the year to June 2006 dropped in real terms by 1% - that is, working Australians have experienced a fall in average weekly earnings of $11 a week as a result of downward pressure on wages and rising living costs," said ACTU Secretary Greg Combet.
"The historically low average earnings are caused by the Federal Government's 18 month freeze on pay rises for award wage workers as part of its new IR laws, and a fall in overtime, penalty rate and bonus payments to workers under the laws."
Two thirds of Australian Workplaces Agreements - the individual contracts at the heart of the new IR laws - scrap penalty rates, a third cut overtime pay, half get rid of shift allowances and another third do away with public holiday payments.
Archer and his colleagues at Harnleigh are paid slightly above-award hourly rates, but don't receive entitlements such as leave loading, overtime, shift rates and are required to provide their own personal protective equipment.
"It's not a feather duster job, you can literally be up to your elbows in shit," he says.
After rejecting an AWA two years ago, Harnleigh employees are trying to boost their conditions by negotiating a collective agreement with the help of the Australian Services Union. But they feel the threat of the Federal Government's new IR laws hanging over them, Archer says.
"When we've tried to negotiate they've said 'well, we could just work you to WorkChoices'," he says.
The high level of union membership among employees has probably protected their jobs.
"If we weren't in the union I think they would have just sacked us and put in new people on AWAs when WorkChoices came in," Archer says.
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