Wage Reviews: Employers seeking minimum wage freezes or delayed increases

Public news

A number of employer bodies are asking the FWC's minimum wage panel to freeze minimum rates, limit any rises to CPI or to follow last year's precedent and postpone any increases.

The ACCI says it won't come to a final position until next May 2021, but foreshadows that it might push for no increase, while it has an "unequivocal" view that any rise should not exceed CPI. The Ai Group also hasn't come to a final position, but says exceptional circumstances favour the panel taking a similar approach to last year and delaying increases for some sectors (it postponed rises for workers in the sectors most exposed to the pandemic until November last year and February this year). Both ACCI and Ai Group have also asked the panel to discount any minimum rate increase to take into account the super guarantee rise (from 9.5% to 10%) due in July, with the latter pointing to it doing so with previous super boosts in its 2012-13 and 2013-14 rulings.

A brace of employer bodies for particular sectors want a zero rise, including the NFF, RCA (which favours a freeze if the panel doesn't award a delayed increase), Master Grocers/Timber Merchants and HIA. The NRA says the panel should raise rates by the CPI, but that for "group 3" awards, including retail, this should be deferred until November 1.

The Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations says that "notwithstanding the Catholic Church’s status as a substantial employer" of 220,000 people, it is seeking a 4% increase across key award rates, driven by its belief that "workers have a right to wages that will support themselves and their families to a dignified standard of living". The Australian Council of Social Service doesn't nominate a particular rise, but says a "substantial" minimum wage increase is warranted to raise the floor from 49% of full-time median weekly earnings towards its benchmark of 60%.

The Victorian Government is asking the panel to order a 2% rise in all minimum rates. Its Queensland counterpart sought an increase of at least CPI.

Meanwhile, the ACTU says that the Federal Government in its submission is "implicitly green-lighting a wage freeze against all the evidence that wages need to rise". The peak body has highlighted a passage in the submission in which it says "higher labour costs during this challenging period could present a major constraint to small business".

The ACTU is asking the panel to increase all award rates by 3.5%. The ACTU describes last year's 1.75% minimum wage increase as "very low" and exacerbated by delaying rises for workers in some sectors to as late as February this year. The union peak body last year sought a 4% increase, but the Commission's minimum wage panel settled on 1.75% in recognition of the effects of the pandemic. FWC president and head of its minimum wage expert panel, Justice Iain Ross, said the majority chose three operative dates for increases based on the pandemic's effect secretary on each sector.

The FWC has crafted a similar timetable for this year's case as it did for last year's virus-afflicted proceeding, with five stages – last month for initial submissions, April 23 for reply submissions and those responding to data or research published after March 26, May 14 for supplementary submissions responding to data published after April 23 and/or post-Budget submissions, June 4 for submissions on the March quarter National Accounts to be released on June 2 and June 8 for reply submissions on the National Accounts.

The MTA's WR team will continue to monitor and update on the wage reviews.