Interview: Common Ground
Industrial: A Low Act
Unions: The Number of the Least
Politics: The Smoking Gun
Economics: Microcredit, Compulsory Superannuation and Inequality
Environment: Low Voltage
History: The Art of Social Justice
Review: Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Culture: A Forgotten Poet
From Green House to Glass House
A Low Act
By Neale Towart
The beloved Low Pay Commission (sorry - Fair Pay Commission) who have just given the low paid a raise of less than the CPI thus dropping the pay further did actually have research on hand to identify the sectors and employers who do pay below $15.00 per hour. So why not live up to their name and target the sectors and employers that pay their workers poorly? Particularly as the low pay these workers get still includes some overtime and penalty rates that WorkChoices aims to get rid of as we all become enterprise workers?
The research has been conducted for the Fair Pay Commission by the impeccably credentialed Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR) and the Australian Centre for Research on Employment and Work (ACREW).
The researchers used different definitions of low pay with the Melbourne Institute deeply analysing statistics collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and first published in 2004. They defined low paid as under $12.00 per hour (which equated with the federal minimum wage in 2004 of $11.80 per hour). ACREW conducted its own pilot survey and study of 1303 employers and looked at workers earning between $12 and $16 per hour.
Casuals, Low Pay and Penalty Rates
It will be no surprise to workers and unions in the industry that the low paying employers were those who relied on casuals and the main industry areas were retailing, property and business services, restaurants, accommodation AND construction (a fact that bodes in for the industry as the regulations and laws that fetter the role of the union will make it even harder for employees to get a fair deal). For the Institute survey these sectors covered 75% of the low paid. They also found that those who used casuals were most likely to pay less than $12.00 per hour.
These loadings are under attack and the pay rise just handed down, combined with the removal of loadings, will act to ensure that these sectors maintain these low rates. The LHMU CleanStart campaign shows that the major union in this sector is aware and is finding ways to act for these workers, but they know that support will not come from any institutions that are supposedly designed to support such workers.
The ACREW study used a different definition, but also went directly to employers in the sector and attempted to gauge the regional nature of low pay. The employers had at least 50% of workers earning between $12 and $16 per hour. Interestingly manufacturing employers were a larger industry sector based on official categories than retailing. This is most worrying for manufacturing unions, already under immense pressure with so much work moving offshore and lowers skilled jobs particularly facing casualisation and more shiftwork to deal with competition, and penalty rates again being targeted with a push for more AWAs.
The agricultural sector was the highest showing a regional concentration of low pay with impoverishment of the country areas part of the wage structure in Australia, at a time when we have a government supposedly representing regional Australians. This is far higher than ABS data would indicate. But note also that the survey did not look in detail at the sectors below $12 although they do report that over 10% of their respondents reported employing adults at less than $12 per hour
The ACREW study found that labourers and related workers; elementary clerical, sales and service workers; and intermediate clerical, sales and service workers were the types of workers who were in the low paid category.
Regional differences were shown in the study with Tasmania having the highest percentage of employers paying between $12-$16 per hour followed by Victoria. Employer size wasn't a major factor determining employment of the low paid. Employers were also mostly in city areas which is of course where most employment is so that research needs refinement to understand percentages per area population who suffer low pay ad the impact that has on regional development
88% of employers were private sector employers showing that the strength of collectivity in the public sector has maintained a fairer wage structure. With the federal government committed to getting AWAs for its employers, and attempting to enforce them on universities for example, this percentage will balance out unless we get rid of the government, as collective action has maintained decent pay.
Collectivity Equals Equality
The direct result of undermining this collectivity has been shown by the governments own Office of the Employment Advocate, by the ADAM surveys conducted by the Centre for Workplace Research (previously ACIRRT) and now by these studies commissioned by the Fair Pay Commission as a increased spread of pay and increased inequality within workplaces as well as across workplaces and regions. A fair and just Australia has been clearly poorly served by the federal government and the institutions it has created or muzzled. The new boy on the block, the Fair Pay Commission had this research at hand to make a decent decision, but it chose to make a political decision that looks nice, but upon scratching the surface, the pay rise is revealed as a further attack on wage justice that cements inequality.
The reports are on the Fair Pay Commission site: http://www.fairpay.gov.au/
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