Nov 3, 2017

Is the ACTU telling the whole truth about a ‘living wage’?

The Australian Council of Trade Unions' call for a living wage in Australia goes against what they've asked for for the last 20 years, according to one of Australia's pre-eminent workplace academics.

Charlie Lewis — Journalist

Charlie Lewis


The Australian Council of Trade Unions on Thursday called for Australia to ditch its minimum wage and replace it with a living wage. ACTU secretary Sally McManus told Fairfax a living wage must be enough that all working people can afford their rent, a a healthy diet, quality education, energy costs, entertainment and a contingency for unexpected costs.

What's the difference between minimum and living wage? Does a minimum wage that does not afford recipients reasonable quality of life actually serve the purpose it was intended to? And is Sally McManus moving the union's goal posts?

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8 thoughts on “Is the ACTU telling the whole truth about a ‘living wage’?

  1. ianmcc

    I think this is one (rare!) instance where the appropriate way to judge an ‘average’ is by taking the actual mean, and not the median. Basing the minimum (or living) wage off the median just makes it easy to suppress wages at the lower end, and allows salaries at the top end to explode.

    1. old greybearded one

      You got it in one mate.

  2. old greybearded one

    I think also the fact that many women are working has allowed wages to fall along the lines of two poor salaries is better than one modest one. This is crap, because everyone is working and families need one parent. One person in full time work should be able to afford the necessities and have a little bit left.

    1. Rais

      The whole time my children were growing up we were a one-income family, except for a little hobby sewing business my wife ran at home. Technically we were below the official poverty line for much of that time but we got by, buying mostly second hand clothes from opportunity shops, an old second-hand car that I maintained myself and cheap fruit and vegetables from the wholesale market. We were pretty often down to the last few dollars in my bank account by payday. I don’t wish that level of economical living on anyone else.

  3. zut alors

    It would be instructive to include the current poverty line figure. I suspect many people in Oz are below it, more than we imagine.

    1. Charlie Chaplin

      I’m not sure what the poverty line is, but the top 10% earn $88,000 and the top 5% earn $120,000. That should give some context. Quite a lot of the top 10% think they’re middle class battlers doing it hard, and that’s part of the problem when it comes to redistributing to the other 90%. We have a very skewed idea of who’s struggling and who’s well off.

    2. AR

      I think the median wage should be the criterion, rather than the average which is distorted by the top end “earners” (as if they are declaring their full allocation of filthy lucre!) is 80k.
      Median single person income is 54k, but that includes part time workers. The median full time worker gets 80k. Everyone on WP either belongs to the >100k low stressed executive category or <10k lazy homeless bum category. So you'll find a few on 20k salaries and a lot more on close to or more than 100k.
      That is about $1500 pw. Which is four times the dole.

  4. Itsarort

    Let’s not get too romantic about the minimum wage of 1907. It has been well known since the 1700’s that the hopelessly impoverished, destitute and drunk do not work very hard.

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