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Unions lobby for record $50-a-week increase to the minimum wage

The union movement will push for a record $50-a-week pay rise for the lowest-paid workers in this year's minimum wage case, with ACTU leader Sally McManus declaring low wage growth is "pushing our economy off course".

But the peak employer group is calling for below-inflation pay rise of just $12.50 per week, arguing businesses are under pressure.

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Unions target wage growth

The ACTU has released advertising and a campaign aimed at stagnant wages, pushing an increase if $50 per week.

Ms McManus will hand deliver the peak body's 7.2 per cent claim - which would increase the full-time minimum wage to $744.90 a week, affecting up to 2.3 million people  - to the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday.

“With record low wages growth holding us back, penalty rate cuts kicking in and bills and rent rising faster than ever, there has never been a better time for a big pay rise for Australians,” Ms McManus said.

“Low wages growth is pushing our economy off course. It’s not just working people sayingthat - the Reserve Bank and Treasurer Scott Morrison agree."

The claim is part of the ACTU's campaign for a "living wage", which would see the minimum wage brought up to 60 per cent of the median wage. It is the biggest claim the unions have submitted under the Fair Work system.

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About 200,000 Australians are paid the minimum wage directly but it affects pay rates for a further 2 million award-reliant workers.

The Australian Industry Group's submission argues for a modest wage increase of 1.8 per cent, below the December quarter inflation of 1.9 per cent.

"An excessive increase would reduce the job security of low paid workers and reduce employment opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed," Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said. "Businesses are under pressure."

In its submission, the ACTU is likely to emphasise that growth in the Australian economy is improving but that slow wages growth is still acting as a significant handbrake. It will also argue that previous minimum wage cases have had little effect on output, sales or employment in the most impacted industries.

It is also likely to point out that profit growth is outstripping wages growth in most sectors, and sound the alarm on the increasing number of households unable to meet their basic expenses and widening inequality.

Last year the ACTU called for a $45-a-week increase and the umpire delivered a 3.3 per cent $22-a-week increase.

Mr Willox said that increase was "exceptionally high" and this year's increase should be "much more modest."

Commission president Iain Ross said the decision was based on subdued inflation strong company profits and doubts over the link between minimum wage rises and negative employment outcomes.

He conceded the commission may have been "overly cautious" when weighing the business lobby's concerns about the impact on employment in previous reviews - signalling a willingness to deliver bigger increases than in the past.

Last year's increase angered the business community, which had warned that pay increases that were not supported by higher productivity would cost jobs. Employer groups had asked for increases of just $8 to $10 a week.

The ACTU will also ramp up its campaign on Tuesday against the Turnbull government's Ensuring Integrity Bill, legislation that would curb union powers and - with some minor amendments - potentially scuttle the controversial merger later this month of the militant construction and maritime unions.

Workplace Relations Minister Craig Laundy has launched a new lobbying effort to convince the Senate crossbench to support the bill, which Labor and the Greens oppose.

There is particular urgency from the government's perspective because the merger of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia - approved last week - is due to come into effect on March 27.

The government would need to pass the amended laws through the Senate next week to have any hope of blocking the merger. Under the bill, amalgamations would be subject to a public interest test that would examine lawless behaviour.

Ms McManus said the bill was unprecedented, dangerous and an undemocratic interference with the organisations of working people.

“Working people need more power to be able to negotiate fair pay rises and get good, secure jobs. But this bill does the opposite, handing more power to corporations and political attack dogs at the expense of working people,” she said.

“It’s an outrageous and dangerous attack on democracy.”