The Fair Work Commission's decision to increase the minimum wage by 5.2 per cent from July 1 could not have come at a better time for millions of workers now guaranteed $812.60 a week, or $21.38 an hour.
While the percentage has been criticised by employers, the quantum is quite small. It is just one dollar an hour more, or an extra $40 a week.
For most Australians, including the bosses arguing for any increase to be kept in the 2.5 to 3 per cent range, this is not much. It is the price of a pub meal or a good bottle of red. It wouldn't even buy a packet of cigarettes or a rump roast.
But it means a lot for those individuals and families on struggle street who will start receiving the money a fortnight from now. It is almost half a tank of fuel for a small car. It is the difference between leaving the heater off or being able to turn it on. It will make it possible to buy a child a new pair of shoes or go on a school excursion.
While Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was slammed by his predecessor during the election campaign for supporting a minimum wage increase that kept pace with inflation, he was the one who was smiling on Wednesday.
There is no doubt his government's submission asking that the Fair Work Commission's expert panel "ensure that the real wages of low-paid workers do not go backwards" had an influence on this outcome. So, too, did the ACTU's push for a 5.5 per cent increase in both the minimum wage and modern award minimum wages.
These were in stark contrast to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group.
The ACCI thought a 3 per cent increase - a cut in real wages of more than 2 per cent - would have been "balanced and responsible".
The Australian Industry Group, in what appears to be a "let them eat cake" moment, argued that the 0.5 per cent increase in superannuation to take effect on July 1, and the increase in the low- and middle-income tax offset, is already going to boost the coffers of the 2.4 million Australians, two-thirds of whom are women, on the lowest wage tier.
It fears the 5.2 per cent increase in the minimum wage and the 4.6 per cent increase to modern award minimum wages will do workers more harm than good.
"[The increases] will fuel inflation and lead to even higher interest rates; even more hardship for people with mortgages, personal loans or credit card debts; and add substantially to the risk of unemployment or underemployment - particularly for unskilled employees," AI Group chief executive Innes Wilcox said.
While both he and the ACCI's chief executive are correct when they say the increases are an additional burden for businesses still recovering from two years of COVID hardship, and which are also battling rising interest, energy and material costs, many industries have bounced back strongly, with profit increases far in excess of the rate of inflation.
It is hard not to form the view some in the business community would be happy to keep wages below the inflation rate forever, with government stepping in to offer occasional cost-of-living relief.
Wednesday's wage ruling was very much in the spirit of the 1907 Harvester decision. That was when the Arbitration Court, taking into account the cost of living, ruled that the minimum or basic wage for an unskilled worker should be enough to house, clothe and feed a wife and three children.
That principle has not changed in the 115 years that have passed since then.
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