Budget must focus on imbalances, says ACTU

Unions are warning the Morrison government ahead of the budget, noting that Australia will judge them based on several key factors, including how they protect the working people and build greater resilience in the economy.

In a speech made to the National Press Club on Tuesday, ACTU president Michele O’Neil pointed to the growing inequality between the haves and the have-nots, urging the government to do more to support those who have fallen behind.

“While Australians struggled to get through the pandemic, Australia’s richest 30 billionaires captured an extra $50 billion during the pandemic – boosting their combined wealth by 31 per cent,” Ms O’Neil said.

With growing inequality, Ms O’Neil said Australia will judge the government based on measures to stem the wage crisis and insecure work, and on how it intends to improve women’s workforce participation.

“The government has such a clear choice in the 2021 budget. They can return to their fear-mongering about debt,” Ms O’Neil said.

“They can give more tax benefits to business and the already well off, and they can try again to convince us that all this largesse will somehow benefit the rest of us.”

“Or they can deliver their own promise that we are all in this together, and all Australians must share in the recovery.”

In her speech, Ms O’Neil said the government has actively pursued a low wage strategy, and after eight years in government, the Coalition has overseen the longest and most painful decline in wage growth of any government since the Great Depression.

“There is no doubt we are in a wage crisis.

“And we are yet to see the full impact of the premature withdrawal of JobKeeper and the shameful return to below-poverty payments in the form of JobSeeker,” Ms O’Neil said.

“With stagnant wages, growing prices and insecure jobs, it is little wonder that millions of Australian families struggle desperately to pay their bills.”

Ms O’Neil said the fear and insecurity from the pandemic had not gone away, citing stats from the Melbourne Institute that revealed around one-quarter of Australians report being in financial stress, meaning they worry they cannot pay for essential goods and services.

“Which makes it even more striking that the government is actively working against wage increases for workers – both in their submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review, and by capping wage increases for their own workforce,” she said.

The speech also laid out a test for the government to see if it is committed to gender equality and women’s workforce participation.

“The 2021 budget will give us this answer. It is a very short seven months since the last budget, and criticism that it ignores women was completely dismissed by government.

“‘Women drive on roads, you know’ was the response,” Ms O’Neil cited.

“The gender pay gap in Australia is still far too wide. Across all jobs, part-time, as well as full-time, women make 31 per cent less per week than men.”

“We rank 44th on a global scale of delivering pay equity.”

“Our labor market is deeply gender segregated, and the industries and occupations dominated by women largely depend on awards and have lower protections and lower wages,” she said.

Despite employment levels almost returning to pre-pandemic levels, the labour market recovery has been “brutally unfair” on younger Australians, with the CEO questioning the security of jobs and whether the government will help support young people.

“We need powerful, targeted measures to get young people working again, and prevent the lifelong scarring of their career and incomes that will otherwise result,” Ms O’Neil concluded.

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Article by Cameron Micallef on nestegg.com.au

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