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Church calling for an increase in minimum wage to support low-income Australians and their families

Church statement: “Families cannot have a decent standard of living on a wage that is set at a level that provides a reasonable standard of living for a single worker without family responsibilities.”

NEITHER employers nor governments are doing enough to support low-paid Australians, and particularly Australian families, a Catholic Church submission has told the Fair Work Commission.

A Church submission contends that the minimum wage of $719.20 per week is “manifestly inadequate” and cannot support working families at a decent standard of living.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has called for the minimum wage to be boosted to $760 per week and $20 per hour.

It calls for award wages to be increased by $31.00 per week and 3.7 per cent for wages above $837.40 per week.

“Families cannot have a decent standard of living on a wage that is set at a level that provides a reasonable standard of living for a single worker without family responsibilities,” the submission states.

“The advocacy in this submission essentially arises from the belief, based on Catholic social teaching, that workers have the right to wages that will support themselves and their families at a decent standard of living.

“This is a standard that has wide community support.”

The Church has made submissions on the minimum wage since 2003 with a focus on low-paid workers and their families, arguing for a decent standard of living for wage-dependent families.

A member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Employment Relations Reference Group Megan Kavanagh said there had been a tradition in Australia – dating back to the Harvester decision in 1907 – that people in full-time work with dependants should not live in poverty.

“The current level of the minimum wage falls far short of the objective identified and set by Harvester in a much less prosperous Australia 112 years ago,” she said. 

Ms Kavanagh said although Australia clearly had a much greater economic capacity to support working families and protect children against poverty than it did more than a century ago, including through the modern social safety net, that was not the lived reality for a large number of families.

She said the value of the minimum wage, relative to national wage levels, had decreased significantly over the past two decades.

“The Fair Work Commission last year found that the minimum wage provided a reasonable income for a single adult without family responsibilities,” Ms Kavanagh said.

“In other words, what was an inadequate wage for a family two decades ago has become a reasonable wage for a single adult without family responsibilities. That is simply unacceptable.”

Catholic Social Services Australia economic policy director Joe Zabar said the living standards of Australians on the minimum wage or in other low-paid roles could be lifted by higher wages, additional government assistance or both.

“Right now, we have the Fair Work Commission arguing that it is not its job to ensure that employers pay a minimum wage that is sufficient to be a living wage for single income earners with dependants,” Mr Zabar said.

“Paradoxically, based on the decisions of successive governments to cut, freeze and repurpose funding from Family Tax Benefits, it seems that governments, too, don’t think it’s their job to ensure families have access to a living wage.”                                

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