Editorial: Rise for low-paid an early win for Albanese

Editorial The West Australian
The pay rise for lowest-paid workers is an early political win for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Camera IconThe pay rise for lowest-paid workers is an early political win for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

It was one of the key moments of the Seven West Media leaders’ debate during the election campaign.

It came as Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison jousted over pay rises for the low-paid.

Mr Albanese pulled a gold coin from his pocket and held it out to Mr Morrison’s gaze as a physical example of what he believed minimum wage earners deserved — an increase of $1 an hour.

“The idea that $1,” he said pleadingly, “the idea that those heroes of the pandemic, those low wage workers, people on the minimum wage, are cleaners, they’re people working in the care sector, they’re people who work in retail, they are people who help get us through the pandemic. They deserve more than our thanks. They don’t deserve a real wage cut.”

The simple image of a dollar coin cut straight through the complexity of the debate over the fate of the minimum wage.

Having won the election, Mr Albanese must now deal with the complexities and realities of the issue.

On Wednesday came the first test.

Mr Albanese’s pandemic heroes have been rewarded with a $40 weekly pay bump to keep pace with soaring inflation — for now.

In a move welcomed by unions and the Federal Government but that worried employer groups, the Fair Work Commission gave the country’s 2.7 million lowest paid workers a 5.2 per cent pay bump.

The increase also covers modern award minimum wage earners such as those in retail and hospitality.

It just beats the current national inflation of 5.1 per cent but leading economists and the Reserve Bank governor expect that figure to keep climbing this year and peak at up to 7 per cent.

The pay bump puts the minimum wage at $21.38 per hour, or $812.60 per week and was more than employer groups wanted. The Australian Retailers Association pushed for 3.2 per cent.

The Prime Minister pushed back on suggestions the rise could “tip them over the edge”, saying it equated to just over $1 an hour. “It makes a difference to people who are struggling with the cost of living,” Mr Albanese said.

“Many of those people who are on the minimum wage are the heroes who saw us through the pandemic.

“These people are really struggling and that’s why we opposed a real wage cut for people on the minimum wage — these are workers who keep those small businesses alive and deserve not to go backwards.”

Industry groups claimed the increase would collectively cost small businesses $7.9 billion.

The National Retail Association said the decision was “out of touch”.

Politically, Mr Albanese has got one of his election boxes ticked — which seems like a great early win.

But, he’s also going to need to wear the consequences and in a very rough economy that could get rougher.

Could the image of him holding up that dollar coin during the debate come back to haunt him? We hope it doesn’t.

Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by WAN Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie

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