Pay day. Photo: Herald Sun
Defend the minimum wage and dignity for workers
Is there something getting into the water at conservative fundraisers?
In the past week we have been treated to leading Liberal-National donor and supporter Clive Palmer accusing the CIA of bankrolling the Rockefeller Foundation to donate to Greenpeace’s legal challenges against his coal mining operations.
Just days later, apparently sensing that “crazy” is the new black, former Federal Liberal MP Ross Cameron waded back into the public debate, to label the minimum wage as a “virus” designed and cultivated to keep people out of work.
However, although it’s easy to giggle at Messrs Palmer and Cameron the fact remains that these are leading figures on the Australian Right, and if we allow the crazy to go unanswered we risk it gaining momentum.
So, let us take Cameron’s conspiracy theory as a starting point and go to the origins of a minimum wage.
The central belief guiding the introduction of a minimum wage across the globe is that “wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner.”
And what Marxist, revolutionary text is this influential quote taken from?
In fact, it was Pope Leo XIII’s seminal encyclical Rerum Novarum. Penned in 1891, it is widely credited with creating momentum internationally for the realisation of this basic right.
Australia was an early adaptor of this moral practice, with the beginnings of a national minimum wage arriving in 1907 off the back of the Harvester Judgment, which ruled that one of Australia’s largest employers at the time had to pay his workers a wage that guaranteed them a basic standard of living.
This went on to become a fundamental right under Australian law.
So much for the shadowy origins and vested interests alluded to by Cameron. However, what about his assertion that the minimum wage stops people from getting jobs?
If you pick up an old Introduction to Economics textbook it may explain that by mandating a minimum wage, and not letting the market find its own equilibrium (i.e. not allowing bosses to pay the very least they can get away with), you create unemployment.
Theoretically this sounds plausible, however like so much of pure economic theory, it doesn’t seem to work out in the real world.
In fact, study after study of similar jurisdictions with differing minimum wages has shown that minimum wage increases do not create job losses.
One of the most famous was the Card and Krueger Study in the United States, which Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman said “found no evidence that minimum wage increases in the range that the United States has experienced led to job losses. Their work has been attacked because it seems to contradict Econ 101 and because it was ideologically disturbing to many. Yet it has stood up very well to repeated challenges, and new cases confirming its results keep coming in.”
So let’s call a spade a spade and spell out what Ross Cameron’s proposal would actually mean.
Australia’s current minimum wage is $589.30 for a full time job per week. If you are sustaining one person on this wage, in modern Australia, it’s tough. It’s near-impossible, if you’re trying to provide for a family with it.
Cameron’s proposal would be to create a new underclass of Australians working for less than $589.30 per week.
Do conservatives really believe this is the sort of country we want to live in?
Australia is a great egalitarian country, the country of the fair go. And while we weren’t the first to introduce a minimum wage (New Zealand beat us to the line on that one), it has proudly been a part of our social landscape for over 100 years.
We have it because we believe that working people should be paid enough to provide adequately for themselves and their loved ones.
We have it because we want to compete for jobs based on our skills, abilities and work ethic – not on how low we are willing to go on wages.
Long may Cameron’s “conspiracy” protect the 1.4 million Australian workers and their families who rely on the minimum wage for a dignified life.
Disclaimer: The author and the organisation he represents have never accepted donations from the CIA in order to advocate for a minimum wage. (Or is that just what he wants you to think?)