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We need to fix wage growth and to do that you need to join a union

It's been a month since Philip Lowe urged workers to rise up.

That was quite the surprise given that governors of the Reserve Bank are, well, reserved. They aren't known for bomb-throwing, for urging capitalists to splash the cash. Nor do they make a habit of telling workers to ask for pay rises.

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But the facts are these and they demonstrate policies that value the needs of business over the needs of workers.

The slices of the money pie are now being shared very differently. Now wage growth in Australia is at record lows while the employers' share of profit as a percentage of gross domestic product is nearly at record highs. And that share is likely to increase when the removal of penalty rates hits.

And this is in the context of Australians battling with record house prices and that ever-increasing gap between what a house costs and what a regular family might save in an attempt to build a deposit. The percentage of 25 to 34 year olds who own a house has dropped 20 per cent in 30 years and it's unlikely to improve any time soon.

These new figures from the census make it quite clear that if we want Australians to own homes, we need to fix wage growth.

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Lowe, speaking at the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum at the ANU last month, urged workers not to concern themselves with work insecurity, robots and "foreign" workers. Those were all in the no worries basket. But record low wage growth, that was different.

He had an explanation for it. He said that when businesses or workers felt as if there was more competition for their services, then you're less inclined to put your price up.

"People value security and one way you can get a bit more security is not to demand a wage rise ... firms act like that and workers act like that," he said.

Lowe kind of encouraged workers not to behave like that any more and believed that relatively low jobless rates in many developed economies would "energise" labour markets and workers into demanding higher wages.

"At some point, one imagines that's going to lead to workers being prepared to ask for larger wage rises ... if that were to happen it would be a good thing."

A few days after Lowe urged workers to revolt, he was joined by the chief economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane, who went one step further in explaining why wage growth in Britain had stalled.

He said a period of "divide and conquer" had left workers less able to bargain for higher wages.

"There is power in numbers. A workforce that is more easily divided than in the past may find itself more easily conquered. In other words, a world of divisible work may reduce workers' wage-bargaining power."

A world of divisible work. He means a world where we don't have collective agreements because not enough of us are in unions. Record low union membership makes it hard to get those pay rises. It's hard enough to ask for a pay rise, let alone all filing one by one into the offices of our bosses. No wonder this government is all about undoing unions.

Around two million Australians belong to a union – and some industries have a much more unionised workforce than others. Those who work in public administration, defence or community services are much more likely to be working alongside union members. Those who work in health or education are the two most thoroughly unionised occupations in the country.

But for those who care about a holistic economy, where the needs of workers and the desires of employers are in balance, we may have some good news around the corner.

A spokesperson for the Australian Council of Trade Unions says that in the past six months, the phones have been running hot. The call centre has had a 25 per cent increase in people making inquiries to join and a near 40 per cent increase in new members who join through the ACTU, from 541 to 753 for the same period.

People clearly want to know how to join a union perhaps persuaded by the team of president Ged Kearney and new secretary Sally McManus. (You could blame this on local union organisations but just remember it's harder to organise when there are fewer members.)

"This shows both a large increase in interest and a large increase in follow through that we attribute to increased campaigning, better join processes and a clear value proposition for people to join," he says.

Those government policies that value the needs of business over the needs of workers will have a damaging effect on our nation and they must be undone. Fine to support business. But business needs customers with money.

Those customers are workers with less to spend than ever before.

The governor of the Reserve Bank wants you to have a pay rise and there's only one way to achieve that. Join a union.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax Media columnist and academic at the University of Technology Sydney.

Twitter: @jennaprice

Facebook: facebook.com/jennapricejournalist