06/05/2010 - 00:00

Union fights for low-paid workers

06/05/2010 - 00:00

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THE Australian Services Union is calling witnesses before A Fair Work Australia hearing in a pay equity test case aimed at lifting the salaries of the state’s social and community sector workers.

THE Australian Services Union is calling witnesses before A Fair Work Australia hearing in a pay equity test case aimed at lifting the salaries of the state’s social and community sector workers.

The ASU officially launched the landmark case in March, which seeks pay increases between 17 and 37 per cent.

Similar pay rises were given to workers in Queensland in 2009.

It follows recent submissions from social and community sector organisations to Fair Work Australia for the annual wage review, which will be completed by June 30.

About 200,000 WA community sector workers could receive an extra $20,000 a year under the ASU’s landmark equal pay case.

ASU assistant state secretary Pat Branson said the case, which has been backed by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard, would pave the way to support the retention of staff and address a chronic skills shortage in the sector.

Ms Gillard said the government would ensure FWA received whatever it needed to deal with the ASU’s application, but reserved the right to intervene.

While Western Australia’s social and community sector workers are covered by the state industrial relations system, under the new Fair Work Australia regime, which began in January, unions can take pay equity cases to the national industrial umpire.

Ms Branson said the union was confident of achieving similar success to that achieved for social and community services workers in Queensland last year.

“We’re looking at a whole range of organisations in every state and we’re in the process now of getting detailed witness statements from employers and employees to back-up the evidence we have to support this move,” she said.

Low-paid employees come mainly from the retail, hospitality and community service industries.

In WA, there are about 160,000 people employed in the retail industry, 110,000 in health and community services and 45,000 in hospitality.

In its annual wage review submission, the Australian Council of Social Service said low-paid workers had not received an increase in minimum wages for the past 18 months.

The last minimum wage increase awarded by the Fair Pay Commission was a rise of $21.66 per week in October 2008, which brought the federal minimum wage up to $543.78 a week.

The commission declined to increase minimum wages in its 2009 minimum wage setting decision.

“In regard to the minimum wage increase for low-paid workers in 2010, we consider that, given last year’s freeze, a substantial real increase in minimum wages is needed now to prevent minimum wages from falling behind increases in the cost of living and median pay levels,” ACOSS said in its submission.

The submission was endorsed by ACOSS’s local branch WACOSS, which said WA had the largest gender pay gap of any state in Australia in the community and social services sectors, a gap much larger than the national average.

Both organisations, along with others such as Anglicare and UnitingCare Australia, will provide evidence in ASU’s pay equity test case.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist John Nicolaou said the peak business organisation, which lodged a submission to Fair Work Australia, supported up to a $12 a week increase to the minimum wage and award wages in 2010.

“Anything more is unsustainable and unjustified,” he said in a statement.

 

 

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