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Catholic bishops call for Australia’s largest national minimum wage increase second year running

Submission to Fair Work Australia calling for 7.2 per cent increase is higher than Australian Council of Trade Unions

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Photo: Joanna Boj/Unsplash

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has told the Fair Work Commission a 7.2 per cent increase in the minimum wage is needed, the nation’s most progressive proposal since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 7.2 per cent call has risen from the conference’s 2022 submission to the annual wage review, which called for an increase of 6.5 per cent.

The bishops’ 2023 submission, prepared by the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations, is supported by a 47-page analysis by the Australian Catholic University, led by senior research fellow Tom Barnes.

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The analysis looks at the impact of the current cost-of-living crisis on low-income earners, the affordability of a large increase in the minimum wage and the potential inflationary impacts of the increase, which are minimal.

Dr Michael Walker, social justice facilitator for the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Justice and Peace Office, welcomed the ACBC submission and told The Catholic Weekly the bishops had been advocating for a more robust minimum wage for years.

“In the past few years high inflation has meant that Australians have seen their ‘real’ income—that is, wages adjusted for inflation—go sharply backwards,” Dr Walker said.

“The Reserve Bank’s own figures show that wages in December 2023 are likely to be back to where they were fifteen years ago, in December 2008 if nothing changes.

“The decline has mostly happened in the last three years as high inflation has gobbled up the gains made over the previous decade. Wages need to catch up again.

“The legal minimum wage, and its flow-on into the Award system, exerts a powerful influence over wages and incomes nation-wide.

“Millions of workers will receive the benefit of a minimum wage increase either directly, because their pay rises are pegged to it, or indirectly because it raises the bargaining floor for their enterprise agreement.

“Moreover, the workers who benefit from the Award system are primarily those on low and medium incomes, who are most feeling the pinch as food, housing and fuel costs have risen sharply.

“It is critical that the Fair Work Commission increase the minimum wage substantially this year to counteract the rising cost of living.”

The bishops’ call for a 7.2 per cent rise makes the Catholic Church the nation’s most progressive organisation on wage increases, outpacing the Australian Council of Trade Unions at 7 per cent.

“The Church has a long history of supporting workers’ right to a living wage, a wage that can support a family, which is a cause that was championed early by Sydney’s own Cardinal Moran in the late 19th century,” Dr Walker said.

“A succession of popes have repeated this teaching, including John Paul II in his encyclicals Laborem Exercens and Centesimus Annus.”

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