THE Fair Work Commission has lifted the minimum wage of Australia's lowest paid workers today $18.70 per week.
About 1.5 million full-time workers will benefit from the decision.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) had called for a $27 a week increase, but employers said they could afford no more than $8.50.
Unions say $27 increase for working poor needed today
A $27 per week wage rise for our lowest paid workers is essential if Australia is to avoid creating an underclass of working poor, unions say.
But employers say they can only afford $8.50 a week.
Last year, an increase of almost $16 a week was awarded.
The Fair Work Commission's Annual Wage Review determination will be handed down today at 2pm.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said that if action isn't taken to turn around the alarming decline in the relative earnings of low paid workers then Australia will have an entrenched 'US style' working poor within twenty years.
"Today's decision is the only chance for a pay increase for 1.5 million of Australia's lowest paid workers, and helps set the pay and pay increases of many more," Mr Oliver said.
"Only twenty years ago Australia's minimum wage was the highest in the OECD at nearly 60% of average full time wages, now it's just 43.3% - the lowest proportion on record.
"If action isn't taken, by around 2035 that figure could languish below 30%.
"This will make life in Australia much tougher for low paid workers who will find themselves well and truly left behind. Unions are not going to sit back and let that happen.
"If we want to be the country of the fair go then Australia's minimum wage must be increased.
"It is the responsible thing to do and it is the right thing to do - Australians are emphatic, we do not want a US style underclass of working poor in this country."
Mr Oliver said that the quintessential Aussie 'fair go' means that everyone is entitled to a decent standard of living and a strong social safety net, including a minimum wage.
"Australians are still reeling from the horror Federal budget - the biggest ever assault on Australia's social safety net - which is taking us down the US-style path of rocketing 'user pays' health and education costs.
"The Abbott Government is also considering a plan to further dismantle the safety net and cut the minimum wage every year for ten years.
"Under this plan Australia's minimum wage will be reduced to 44% of average weekly earnings, wiping off $136 per week in today's dollars, taking the minimum wage down to around $480 per week, or just $12 per hour.
"This is a recipe straight out of the United States - pushing down the minimum wage, getting rid of decent health services and privatising core Government services.
"This Government has made clear to Australians that their wages aren't safe - the Abbott Government and the business lobby want to see the wages and conditions of hardworking Australians cut."
Mr Oliver said the ACTU is demanding the National Minimum Wage increase to $649.20 a week for Australia's lowest paid including cleaners, retail and hospitality staff, child care workers, farm labourers, and factory workers.
"This would mean a 71 cent per hour increase from $16.37 per hour to $17.08 per hour.
"We're asking the Fair Work Commission to increase the lowest award wages by the same amount, $27 per week. For other Award reliant workers above the benchmark tradesperson's rate, Unions seek a 3.7% increase."
Mr Oliver said the performance of Australia's economy meant the claim of $27 a week for the National Minimum Wage was affordable and reasonable.
The claim for $27 would benefit about 750 000 workers.
A pay rise of 3.7% will be sought for a further 790 000 Award-reliant workers who are paid above the C10 tradesperson's rate. In total, about 16% of employees depend on the wage increased obtained by the ACTU through Annual Wage Reviews.
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