What is a Living Wage? Here’s what you need to know

With the cost of living on the rise and real wages not keeping up, it’s time we had a ‘living wage’.

You’ve probably heard of the minimum wage. The Living Wage takes the idea one step further – it ensures that workers can maintain a decent standard of living.

Even today, we still see big corporations treating workers like commodities rather than humans. Now more than ever, the labor movement is striving to ensure that we can all have access to a decent wage.

A living wage would empower workers to do more than just meet basic daily needs. We all want to be able to do more than just survive.

Companies don’t always take care of their employees

The salary you earn should be enough to pay for housing, food, transportation and other necessities, right? But that kind of thinking hasn’t been the norm for so long.

When the minimum wage was first introduced in Australia over a century ago, its purpose was to ensure that workers could support themselves and their families.

The judgment of the reapers in 1907 meant that employers had to consider the needs of workers rather than simply letting wages depend on the profits made by the employer.

Although the idea may seem unfathomable now, it was this ruling that ensured employers didn’t simply let workers starve if they decided they couldn’t pay them enough.

Why is the minimum wage not enough?

One would think that paying workers enough to avoid poverty would be a first step for any workforce.

But sticking to the minimum wage is simply not enough to lift us out of poverty.

The current minimum hourly rate is $20.33 for a full-time worker, or $772.60 per week.

However, there are many exceptions to this norm that see workers receiving significantly less for their regular pay.

Many workers are underemployed – that is, they don’t work as many hours as they would like – and many awards include lower wage rates for apprentices or “juniors”. (those under 21).

In some circumstances, this means you can legally get paid but still don’t earn enough to make ends meet.

And big business has shown us time and time again that they’re all too willing to put profits before people.

We’ve seen enough cases of wage theft and shortcuts to know that the best advocates for workers will always be the workers themselves.

Frontline workers explain need for proposed 5% increase for annual wage review

What a living wage could do for you

With 1 in 4 employees in Australia dependent on an Award salary, a living wage could give you extra stability and welcome respite from high living costs.

We have seen wages grow at a snail’s pace over the past nine years of coalition government. In fact, real wages fell under the Morrison government in 2021.

Filling the tank, buying groceries and paying the rent hurts us more than ever. But neither Morrison nor big business wants to alleviate that stress.

When the minimum wage was designed with the Reapers Agreement, it was meant to act as a living wage. But since then it has fallen well below the level of a living wage.

Australian unions and their members believe that the national minimum wage should be a living wage. We have campaigned year after year, despite continued opposition from right-wing employer groups and politicians.

A minimum wage as a living wage should reduce poverty and inequality, improve the absolute and relative standard of living of workers who depend on scholarships, and reduce the gap between scholarship and agreement pay rates.

Our chance to get back on track

Every year the unions seek to increase the minimum wage for the whole country. Because we know that if we let big business and the Morrison government have a say in wages, we would be a country of still working but still poor people.

This year, we are demanding a 5% increase in the national minimum wage and award minimum wages. The increase would reduce cost-of-living stress and put Australia back on track to ensure all workers can earn a living wage.

You shouldn’t have to scratch to make ends meet. Union members earn on average $250 more per week than non-union members.

From community and service workers to technicians and trades, Australian union workers continue to negotiate higher wages to ensure all members get a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

Get on the path to a living wage today

Michael A. Bynum