Minimum Wage

The Australian
8th March 2005

Dear Sir,

Your editorial (8 March) states that "nobody, at least not us, argues for a US-style minimum wage that essentially creates a class of working poor". But my 1998 report to the Labour Ministers Council showed this perceived creation of the US system to be a myth. Using a similar poverty line, overall levels of poverty as measured may be even higher under Australia'smore regulated labour market.

You list as one fault of the existing Australian system that it prevents the employment of 100,000 unskilled. But there are over 1 million job seekers with the potential to be employed if wages were legally payable between the minimum of over $24,000 a year and the (single) unemployment benefit of about $10,000. This unfair anomaly reflects the AIRC-imposed minimum.

Note also that, if Australia had a similar proportion of its working age population employed as in the US, we would have another 300,000 - 400,000 in jobs. Further, at 33 percent of the median wage, other OECD countries have minimum wage rates similar to the US and much lower than Australia's 58 percent. Assistance to those on low incomes is properly the function of social welfare policy, not industrial tribunals with no capacity to assess the widely different needs of such individuals but which make decisions undermining employment.