Basic Wage: We have gone backwards since 1907.

Oz Liberal Party are saying that we can’t afford Labor’s plan to set Fair Work’s guidelines to seek basic wage to keep single person out of poverty.  (Yes, our “independent arbiter” on minimum wage is independent, but it runs on rails laid by the government…)

Time for the general public in Oz and overseas to revisit the Harvester Decision 1907 (!)  :

As the Fair Work Commission’s website says:

In Ex parte H.V. McKay (the Harvester Decision), Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court decided to determine what ‘fair and reasonable’ wages were using the following test:

I cannot think of any other standard appropriate than the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilised community. [p.3]

This became the basis of the national minimum wage system in Australia. It was a ‘living’ or ‘family’ wage, set at a level which would supposedly allow an unskilled labourer to support a wife and three children, to feed, house, and clothe them. By the 1920s it applied to over half of the Australian workforce. It became known as the ‘basic wage’. Additional amounts were paid to more skilled workers, for example an additional 3 shillings to a fitter or other tradesperson. These additional amounts were known as ‘margins’.

Our politicians are so proud of how we have “advanced” as a society. Well, let’s not go back to the high employment standards of 1907.  Compromise.  Don’t have the minimum be for a family of 2 adults and 3 children.  Let it be for a single adult, but have government support for dependants – covered by taking back some of the tax cuts we have had.  Have the Nation recognise that we need the children to be well-educated and healthy and happy if we are to continue as a strong nation.

Follow Justice Higgins: set the basic wage to cover at least housing, healthy food, medical costs (including dental and optical), power, water, clothes, footwear, furniture, rates, life insurance, savings in case of loss of employment, union dues, books and newspapers and NBN, public transport fares, school requisites, amusements and holidays, replacement of items such as refrigerators, domestic help, and any expenditure for unusual contingencies (e.g. too ill to work,  have to move house, death in family, etc.)

Yes, this means that Australia’s high rental and power costs should be figured in.

Seems weird that we have a high minimum wage by global standards but workers need more?

That’s what comes of letting private industry run vital services (Adam Smith would be horrified, and his works are the basis of many neocons’ theories!)  and also destroying the government-run provision of housing at controlled cost for low-income people.  With the perennial politicians’ bribes of lower taxes we have had the sale of infrastructure and the collapse of State Housing Commission support – with over a year’s wait for emergency housing as one result.  In North Metro Perth, 2018, the average wait was 166 weeks.  I therefore say that the private market’s prices for housing and power and internet must be factored into any calculation of unemployment and sickness benefits, as it should for the basic wage.

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