FWC minimum wage increases delayed

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The Fair Work Commission is mandating an increase in the minimum wage for print industry workers, but in light of the Covid crisis has delayed it until November.

Delayed: minimum wage increase for print

In its Annual Wage Review 2019-20 the FWC is increasing the Graphic Arts, Printing, and Publishing Award 2010 by 1.75 per cent on 1 November. The lowest pay rate in the industry at present for an adult is $740.80 per week, which will rise to 753.75.

The 1.75 per cent rise was a compromise figure, employers groups wanted a freeze on wages this year, the unions wanted a four per cent rise.

Walter Kuhn, Print and Visual Communications Association president, said the delay in the increase of award wages is good for the industry in the short term.

"Obviously most print companies are being affected by the Covid issue,” he said. “If the delay can stem any increases in costs until November, it would definitely good for the industry.”

Kuhn noted that the wage increase mandate applies to the award wages, but many in the industry are paid above the award.

“Companies can elect to increase wages in line with the award," he said.

Kuhn went on to say overall, most companies seem to be dealing with the crisis and issues on a day-to-day basis.

“We at PVCA are in constant contact with members, giving them advice over our HR hotline so they can navigate the situation, and have support around them.”

In the summary of the review, the FWC noted that the Covid pandemic has led to “significant shifts in the way work and society is conducted, with substantial economic consequences”.

"The Australian government urged the panel to take a cautious approach in light of the continuously emerging and wide-ranging potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and to prioritise keeping Australians in jobs and maintaining the viability of businesses,” the decision summary reads.

Indeed, in the majority decision, the panel observed that the pandemic “casts a large shadow over the current economic environment”.

“While predominately a public health issue, federal and state government-imposed restrictions to contain the spread of the virus have had a profound economic impact,” the decision reads.

The majority decision noted that the economy is in a significant downturn and is all but certain to enter a technical recession for the first time in nearly 30 years. It described the shock to the labour market as “unprecedented”, noting that the unemployment rate has increased significantly and the nuber of hours worked has fallen.

In terms of the impact, the majority found the pandemic had not affected all sectors of the economy equally.

The awards were divided into three groups:

Group 1 comprises industries less affected by the pandemic and frontline workers. This includes health professionals, fire fighters, police, and others. The minimum wage increases for industries in this group will take effect on 1 July.

Group 2 comprises industries that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, but not to the extent of Group 3. The printing industry falls within this group, along with various construction, manufacturing, and other industries. The wage increases for this group will come into effect on 1 November.

Group 3 comprises industries that have been most affected by the pandemic, including accommodation and food services; arts and recreation services; aviation; retail; and tourism. These won’t see a wage increase until 1 February next year.

The summary of the majority opinion reads: “The very high level of underemployment warrants more weight being given to the potential impact of increasing minimum wages on hiring and re-employment. Further, in a recession, when aggregate demand is weak, the employment effects of increases in minimum wages are likely to become more significant and the capacity of employers to absorb wage increases or to pass them on to consumers in the form of higher prices is more limited.”

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