The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has slammed the ACTU’s push for a $21 per week minimum wage rise, claiming the result would be increased job losses.

ARA executive director Richard Evans said the ACTU’s argument that a wage rise will maintain the purchasing power of working families is outrageous and irresponsible in the current economic environment.

“The unions are stuck in old world thinking and need to be far more conscious of saving jobs, rather than putting pressure on employers to pay more. We are in unique financial times and need to show caution.

“In our submission to the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC), we have shown data supporting our view that retail employers who are struggling to survive will shed staff to cope with any increases in labour costs. The ARA has told the Fair Pay Commission the responsible and reasonable approach to safeguarding Australian jobs is to defer any minimum wage increase until economic recovery is evident. 

“Unions calling for a $21 per week rise – with unemployment at 5.2 per cent and rising and a new award structure set to increase wage bills after January – need a serious reality check,” said Evans.

“Retailers are operating in unstable times and we must be focusing on decisions that save jobs – not those that threaten employment. How will paying staff more money help the economy? It will drive more retailers to shed staff.”

The ACTU is essentially supporting an employer-funded $1000 cash handout for workers after the government has directly supported those on minimum pay with a tax reduction in July 2008, cash payment of at least $1000 in December 2008 equating to $19.23 per week, a cash payment of at least $900 in March 2009 equating to $17.31 per week and a tax reduction in July 2009.

“The ARA strongly recommends the AFPC should hand down a landmark decision of ‘nil’ or deferred minimum wage rise to reflect the unique times the great majority of Australian employers and employees are now experiencing,” said Evans.