‘It’s impossible to look for paid work if you’re homeless and hungry’
AUSTRALIA faces a wage crisis with low paid workers and their families in danger of falling into poverty, according to the chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen.
In his annual pastoral letter for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker delivered on May 1, Bishop Long called for an urgent increase in minimum wages and the Newstart Allowance.
He also took aim at the rise of the “gig economy”, characterised by temporary jobs and part time contracts as contributing to Australia’s job insecurity.
“Currently we are facing a wage crisis. Since 2012, wages growth has slumped to record lows, with increases of only two per cent each year – well below previous levels of 3.5 per cent,” he said.
“This stagnation is affecting all states and territories, all industries and all categories of job.”
According to the Australian Council of Social Service, Newstart, at $278 a week, and related payments haven’t increased in real terms in the last 24 years.
“They are now so low people cannot afford basic necessities like housing, meals, bills and transport, even if they get Rent Assistance,” ACOSS posted on its website this week.
“We need to Raise the Rate so everyone has a roof over their head and food on the table.
“Because it’s impossible to look for paid work if you’re homeless and hungry.”
Bishop Long pointed to estimates that 1.5 million workers faced poverty or the risk of it, while there were almost two million people who were unemployed or who have withdrawn from the labour market completely.
He said workers’ bargaining power had been eroded by threats from automation and overseas competition, dwindling trade union membership and tight restrictions on industrial action.
Also, the “gig economy” has taken hold in Australia, according to the 2016 census data.
Today, one in three working Australians are employed part-time, up three per cent since 2011.
A quarter of a century ago, just one in 10 were employed part-time.
Australia ranks only behind Switzerland and the Netherlands as having the highest proportion of workers employed part-time.
“These are the kind of structural issues holding back significant wage increases now and for the foreseeable future,” Bishop Long said.
“This poses challenges not just for workers and their families, but for the strength of the economy and the health of our society.”
While wages have stagnated since 2012, costs such as childcare, electricity, gas, health and education have increased between three and five times average consumer price increases.
“Most families are feeling the pinch, but the most vulnerable, including the working poor, are finding it virtually impossible to make ends meet,” Bishop Long said.
“Building an economy that is inclusive and serves all is a key challenge of our times. For the common good, Australia needs a new consensus between government, business and workers to solve the current impasse of wage stagnation.”