Antipoverty Centre: ‘Minimum wage decision won’t even buy an iceberg lettuce’

June 16, 2022
Image: Anti-Poverty Network SA/Facebook

Following the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to raise the minimum wage, the Antipoverty Centre wants the federal government to immediately lift welfare payments above the poverty line.

JobSeeker recipients are trying to survive on a base payment that was roughly half the poverty line, before the spiralling food, energy and housing costs.

Antipoverty Centre spokesperson and JobSeeker recipient Jay Coonan said on June 15 that while he is relieved some low-paid workers will soon get a pay rise, many are still not earning above the poverty line.

The JobSeeker payment is $642.70 a fortnight, about $46 a day, for a single person without children. The Henderson Poverty Line is $88 a day.

“The $1 an hour [rise in the minimum wage] is pitiful and does not meaningfully improve lives,” Coonan said. “It won’t even buy an iceberg lettuce for a day’s work.”

The Antipoverty Centre is concerned at the decision to delay the wage rise for workers in aviation, tourism and hospitality.

“There is no justification for prioritising businesses over the wellbeing of workers they rely on,” Coonan said.

If the FWC president acknowledges that low-paid workers are “particularly vulnerable” what does that make the 5 million people who rely on poverty-level Centrelink payments, Coonan asked?

“Our payments are becoming worth less with each day and, so far, we’ve heard nothing but repeated commitments from the new government to keep it that way.

“Inflation is soaring and, as we head into a harsh winter, people can’t afford to heat their homes. The nine out of 10 people on unemployment payments who were regularly skipping meals before costs skyrocketed are now eating even less.”

Coonan said people are contacting the Antipoverty Centre every day in despair. Their fear is being made worse by the new government’s new employment services program, Workforce Australia Employment Services Provider, which comes into force in July and will include new punitive obligations.

“We expect it will increase the number of people having their JobSeeker payment cut off altogether,” Coonan said.

“New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese must live up to his rhetoric of no one being left behind and urgently increase all Centrelink payments to at least the Henderson poverty line.

“The eligibility rules must be changed to ensure that everyone who needs support can access it,” he concluded.

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