Catholic bodies slam "unfair" wage increase

Declaring the $10.26-a-week minimum wage increase as "grossly unfair", St Vincent de Paul Society says it will give its workers a $30-a-week increase while Australia's Catholic employment body says that the evidence does not support the Fair Pay Commission's findings.

Chairman of the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations (ACCER) Brian Lawrence said in a statement that the decision of the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) was unfair on working families.

"The AFPC finding that the combination of wages and transfer payments provides a sufficient safety net for workers and their families is not supported by the evidence," he said.

Earlier this year, ACCER submitted to the AFPC that its 2006 Decision had incorrectly included unemployment benefits for the second parent in calculating the total disposable income of a single income family where the breadwinner is paid a wage at or near the Capital Minimum Wage.

Unemployment benefits, such as the Newstart allowance, are only payable if the person is seeking employment and are therefore not payable to the second parent who stays at home, the agency's statement said.

The effect of this error was to overstate the income of a family on the Federal Minimum Wage in which one parent chooses to stay at home to care for the children by $108 a week.

ACCER says the Commission has once again overstated the income of a family in which one parent remains at home to care for children.

"What appeared as an arithmetical error has become an error of principle which discriminates against these families," Mr Lawrence said.

Commission failed to fix safety net

Mr Lawrence said ACCER also supported the view of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) that the AFPC had failed to fix a safety net based on the needs of the low paid.

He said the safety net was a guarantee of a just wage that ensured human dignity for low-paid workers. It must be quantified by reference to the actual needs of low-paid workers and their families.

The Commission's continued reliance on the "out-dated" Henderson Poverty Line as a point of reference for setting wage levels, particularly for families with children, was regrettable, he said.

"A more realistic assessment of the financial needs of families is the research conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, showing that the minimum needed for this kind of family unit is now in excess of $775 a week," Mr Lawrence said.

"Knowing how much it costs to raise a family is vital to the proper setting of safety wages."

CSSA says Commission lets battlers down

Meanwhile, CSSA Executive Director Frank Quinlan said in a statement that the minimum wage increase would do little to alleviate the financial hardship experienced by Australia's lowest paid workers.

Mr Quinlan said the decision by the AFPC to increase the minimum wage by a mere $10.26 a week focuses on the needs of employers and ignores the cost pressures experienced by low-paid workers and their families.

"In setting wages, the AFPC has a statutory obligation to consider the provision of a 'safety net' for low paid workers and their families," Mr Quinlan said.

"The 'safety net' is the guarantee of a just wage ensuring human dignity for low-paid Australian workers. It can best be determined by looking at the actual needs and cost pressures experienced by low-paid workers and their families.

Mr Quinlan also said he is seriously concerned by the Commission's decision to defer some wage increases for "farm businesses most severely affected by drought".

Vinnies rises to the occasion

In another response to the AFPC decision, the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW will give its employees a $30-a-week pay rise because it regards the $10.26 awarded by the Australian Fair Pay Commission this week as inadequate, theSydney Morning Herald reports.

The society's state president, John O'Neill, said the $10.26-a-week increase for workers relying on minimum wage rates was "grossly unfair when compared with the huge increases paid to executive employees in corporate Australia".

"The claim that to grant a larger increase would be inflationary is hard to fathom when this decision will mean that many workers will be worse off than they were 12 months ago given the spiralling cost of rental accommodation," Mr O'Neill said.

The society has about 1,000 employees in NSW and the ACT, including social workers and administrative and retail staff.

AFPC decision-making unfair on low-wage families with stay-at-home parent (ACBC Media Release, 7/7/07)
Vinnies puts its money where its low-paid workers need it (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Social Services Australia

Catholic employment body calls for $27 wage rise (CathNews, 23/4/07)
WorkChoices unbalanced, Catholic employment body says (CathNews, 2/7/07)

9 Jul 2007