Florencia with her 3-year-old daughter,
Once again Australia’s lowest paid battlers are up for a possible payrise in the annual “safety net” wage review. But just how do they
make ends meet? CHRIS HOOK reports
Last year’s stock market results will see all of AMP’s six senior executives top the magic $1 million mark in salaries, with one gentleman collecting
$5.73 million – more than double his 1999 salary.
A just and proper reward for value-adding, some might say – but what of rewards for those at the bottom of the corporate tree who also perform their duties?
Lakemba parishioner, Florencia Parajo, is praying her union will win her a $28 a week pay rise to bump up the $400 a week she earns as a drycleaner in a city hotel.
As Florencia says, making ends
meet is an ongoing struggle. She runs a tight ship. But a federal government submission to a national wage hearing, where workers are haggling for their extra $28 a week, unfortunately does not extend the same
generosity as that enjoyed by
AMP executives. The government wants pay rises of just $10 a week.
AMP’s return to profitability will undoubtedly bring joy to millions of ordinary Australian shareholders
– ‘mums and dads’ in political parlance. Readers might recall disaster striking the financial services company shortly after demutualisation.
Finally, shareholder anger caught up with then chief executive
George Trumbull who – after overseeing losses in excess of $424 million – was forced to resign, having to make do with a paltry $13.2 million pay out to assuage his battered ego.
Luckily, AMP executives got
their collective acts together and AMP’s performance for 2000 will ensure a tidy final dividend pay-out of 24 cents a share for those participants, here in the greatest share-owing democracy in the world, with the
wisdom to throw dollars into AMP. This is how those executives earned their handsome pay rises.
In a recent submission to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission’s (AIRC) “living wage” case, the
federal government argues for just $10 a week extra for those earning under $492 a week.
Any more than that would be a threat to “Australia’s low inflation rate, erode living standards, damage the prospects
for economic growth and jeopardise the job prospects of many low paid workers and job seekers, particularly in key sectors such as retail and tourism”, according to the government.
The Australian Council of
Trade Unions (ACTU) is seeking the $28 a week rise for Australia’s lowest paid.
Florencia, a mother of four, is one of them. She works at a large city hotel as a drycleaner, taking home just over $400 a week
– if she is lucky enough to get weekend penalty rates.
“It’s very hard,” says Florencia. “Last year we got $15 a week, so that meant $30 a fortnight which is a big help to us. But with the GST, everything’s
up now. Still we have survived.
“But that’s why you see a lot of crime now, some violence now. People are struggling because of the pressure.”
Florencia nominates several friends who have been the
victims of bag snatches in the past few weeks – and they certainly weren’t North Shore matrons ripped off at the Neutral Bay supermarket.
Florenica’s struggle – and she is quick to stress that some of
her colleagues are far worse off than she – is replicated around the country.
A survey of 600 households across Australia shows that six in 10 Australians feel they are under more financial pressure than five
years ago, and almost 60 per cent feel they are having more trouble balancing the demands of work and family.
Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures on income distribution state that 60 per cent of
Australian income earners get just under 30 per cent of the nation’s total generated weekly cash income.
And the others? They are doing very nicely, with the top 20 per cent alone receiving almost half the
nation’s gross weekly income.
“These figures confirm that the only group in the community this government really listens to is the top end of town,” ACTU secretary Greg Combet commented.
government can’t continue to ignore the facts. Despite Australia’s economic growth, low-paid workers and their families are being left behind and need a decent pay-rise just to make ends meet,” Mr Combet said.
A CASE OF JUST GETTING BY
Florencia Parajo and her husband make ends meet on $900 per week between them.
Her husband works a 12-hour day from 6am
to 6pm. Florencia works from 6am to 2.30pm. Both take whatever overtime they can to put away money for emergencies.
They consider their experience typical of families on a similar income.
“If we don’t
have it (money for emergencies) then I sell some jewellery,” Florencia says.
“I was always independent when I was young. I don’t want to ask for money from my friends, my relatives or my mum so I always saved
money for myself. I was brought up by my mum to stand on my own two feet. So long as I can do something, I don’t need help.”
Florencia’s life is a disciplined one, as is that of her children. It has to be.
Florenica is up just before 5am to make lunches for the kids, and get their breakfasts ready. Then, when Florencia and her husband go to work, the children wake up. The older kids make sure the younger ones
are fed and clothed before one of Florenica’s friends arrives to take them to school and childcare.
“Whatever I’ve learned, I teach them,” Florencia explains. “Even first aid and what to do in case of fire or
And this timetable is nothing compared to that Florencia and her husband endured a few years ago. Florencia took a job sorting mail from 6pm to 4am. Her husband would be out the door by 5am, so
they effectively would not see each other for days. But, Florencia says, the money was good as Florencia was also racking up hours as a casual room attendant at the hotel she now works for.
Florencia got full-time work in the hotel and the family timetable is a little more civilised. But now there are two more mouths, and slightly less money.
Occasionally the family might take a trip to see a
movie or get McDonald’s but their budget is pretty tight.
“You have to spend your money wisely. If you overspend, you’ll be short and you have to spend your money according to your income. Because if you
don’t, you’re gonna be in debt,” Florencia says.
So would a possible $28 a week pay increase help matters much? Florencia laughs and points out that the sum would still be taxed and now with the GST, taxed
“So how much can we get? That’s the point that has to be considered. Some people travel a long way, from Mt Druitt or Campbelltown, so they take buses or a private car to get to the train station,
so it doesn’t matter if the GST isn’t on food … so how much is left after these things that need to be considered?”
And once again, Florencia stresses that she is lucky as she is paid at a higher level than
many of her colleagues.
“If you’re receiving around $11 an hour, how much do you take home? Is that a good standard of living?”
Apparently the government thinks it is good enough.