Protecting penalty rates pivotal to arresting wages growth slump

Queensland Unions have called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to show leadership on protecting penalty rates as slowing wages growth threatens Australia’s economic future.

Figures released yesterday show annual growth in wages is now firmly entrenched below the two percent mark for the first time since the ABS began compiling the Wage Price Index nearly 20 years ago.

Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said the Turnbull federal government was pretending to have a neutral position on weekend penalty rates when its predecessor actually instigated the Productivity Commission recommendations designed to make the removal of penalty rates easier.

“Nothing from the LNP in the election campaign or since has given workers any comfort that penalty rates will be protected,” she said.

“Low wages growth puts pressure on inflation targets, which the Reserve Bank expects to be around 2 to 3 per cent so it can make plans to keep our economy moving,” she said.

“Instead we are seeing stagnation largely being driven by low private sector wages, especially in industries such as retail trade and hospitality that may even face lower wages if penalty rates are cut.”

Ms McLennan said the Turnbull federal government needed to break out of its obsession that a $50 billion tax cut for big business will somehow trickle down to everyday Australians and their families.

Australian Unions, the Reserve Bank of Australia and business have identified that providing additional support for growth, through long-term investment in public infrastructure, will lead to an increase in growth and wages.

“It’s time for the Federal Government to start consulting with unions and business,” she said.

“At a time when the Government should be creating an environment where workers get more of the rewards of their labour, the government is moving in the opposite direction, attacking penalty rates, wages and conditions.

“The attack on penalty rates is a red herring that won't help businesses and will only hurt workers. Lowering wages generally, and penalty rates in particular, will only make our economic problems worse.”

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