Big unions must face the facts of the ‘fair go’

WAGE FACTS: It might not feel like it, but despite what the big unions have been saying average wages are actually increasing.
WAGE FACTS: It might not feel like it, but despite what the big unions have been saying average wages are actually increasing.

Big unions are campaigning to the cry that “workers deserve a fairer go”. But union bosses have thrown together a grab bag of gripes and ended up painting a distorted picture of reality.

A “fair go” starts with not trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Big unions need to come clean – their Change the Rules campaign is based on deliberate misinformation about how Australians work and the way the Australian industrial relations system operates.

With only 9 per cent of Australian private sector employees choosing to join a union, the big union business model just doesn’t stack up.

The fact is, even though it may not feel like it, wages are increasing. Wage increases under enterprise agreements are growing – an average of 2.7 per cent in March 2018, at rates exceeding inflation.

Australian minimum wages have increased by more than inflation in 15 of the past 19 years.

Australia has the second-highest minimum wage in the world.

We’re talking a “real” minimum hourly wage, adjusted for purchasing power parity and reflected in data from the highly respected international Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A small fraction of Australian employees are paid the national minimum wage – just 1.9 per cent, or about 196,000 employees.

Of the wider group of 2.3 million paid minimum wages in awards, almost all are paid above the minimum wage.

Statistics from Australia’s official statistical organisation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show levels of casual employment have remained stable for almost two decades.

There is no evidence of a trend towards casual employment at the expense of full or part-time work.

Inequality is not rampant, nor is it on the rise. This is backed up by the findings of the independent Productivity Commission: “Sustained growth has delivered significantly improved living standards for the average Australian in every income decile.”

Most employers are not making big profits. Small business operators are finding it particularly tough, with most earning less than $50,000 a year.

Times are tough for many people and the cost of living is a real concern. Power bills have been going up and up. But we won’t fix these problems by forcing men and women who run small businesses to pay wages they can’t afford ... and we won’t fix them by returning to industry wide bargaining and strikes.

I know that times are tough for many people and the cost of living is a real concern. Power bills have been going up and up.

But we won’t fix these problems by forcing men and women who run small businesses to pay wages they can’t afford.

We won’t fix them by imposing union dictated terms and conditions on employees that choose not to join a union.

And we won’t fix them by returning to industry wide bargaining and strikes, which would once again damage Australia’s investment attractiveness in the global marketplace.

We’ll fix them by helping business to grow so they can give jobs to more people, offer more hours of work and, if they can afford it, pay higher wages.

We’ll fix them by getting power prices down and keeping them down.

The recently published Global Competitiveness Index has Australia pegged well behind the pack of leading countries.

It says: “The functioning of its labour market … is notably affected by its rigidity.”

We need policies that help not hinder Australia’s attractiveness as a place to invest – to ensure Australian jobs aren’t chased away to other countries by the excessive claims of big unions.

Improving our global competitiveness will ensure that all Australians benefit from the increased job opportunities and wage growth generated by a growing, competitive Australian economy.

James Pearson is chief executive officer of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The chamber is Australia’s most representative business network. It is the largest voice for small business, and advocates for more 300,000 business of all sizes, across the country and in every sector of the economy, who employ millions of Australians.