An Extra $15.80 per Week

Money

This week the Australian Fair Work Commission decided on the increase to Australia’s minimum wage. After much debate and to-ing and fro-ing, the figure arrived at was $15.80 per week.

This means that those Australians earning minimum wage (all 1.5 million of them) are due a payrise. Yay!

But it’s only fifteen bucks a week. Boo!

Or… yay?

Depends who you ask.

According to various business-types, it’s an excessive rise and guaranteed to affect job stability and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.

According to students, youth councils, and other representative groups, it’s a kick in the teeth for hard-working young Aussies just trying to get ahead and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.

So, which is it?

When I heard the news, I felt the familiar stirring of Youth Pride and Teen Angst stirring in my gut. Yeah! F the man! We deserve more! Let’s have us a protest!

But when I tried to stand up in solidarity, my knees locked and I realised that I’m more Creepy Middle Aged Woman Holding On To Lost Youth than Youth Crusader For Justice.

And that got me thinking.

The fact is $15.80 a week isn’t much. You can’t buy a movie ticket for that price. You can’t buy a six-pack of beer. You can’t even pay the cover charge to get into some nightclubs. It’s a paltry amount.

But…

But $15.80 a week is $821.60 per year.

For a small business with three employees, that’s an extra $2500 dollars a year in wages. The unions were asking for twice that amount, which is excessive when you think about it from the small business owner perspective.

So is the raise too low?

The youth radio station I was listening to certainly seemed to think so. They made quite a joke of the whole thing. “I want to hear from you,” the DJ said. “Tell me what you’ll spend your extra $15.80 a week on. Bonus points if you come up with something that costs exactly $15.80.”

And as people called and texted and tweeted in with their answers (Fake dreadlocks! A McDonald’s meal! A bath towel!), I got to thinking.

I’m not on minimum wage. In fact, I’m not on any wage. I’m a Mum who does some freelancing work on occasion, and dreams of selling enough books to buy a chain of deserted islands. So what could I buy with $15.80?

And this is what I came up with:

  • Two loaves of home-brand white bread: $2.00
  • One stick of home-brand butter: $1.90
  • Two dozen home-brand free-range eggs: $7.90
  • Four litres of unsweetened orange juice: $4.00

For $15.80, I can provide breakfast for a family of four for a week.

It’s funny, isn’t it? When you remove the instinctive Disaffected Youth Mentality reaction, the $15.80 pay-rise seems pretty damn reasonable.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

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9 Comments

Filed under Opinion

9 responses to “An Extra $15.80 per Week

  1. When the income we make barely pays for the our cost of living, even a small amount can be the difference between a decent meal or a rumbly tummy that goes without.

    You made a great point about perspective. It’s interesting how peeps immediately saw that raise as disposable income. The value of money is no longer respected. Change is left on a sidewalk. Banks give away a hundred dollars to lure in business. Retail stores send coupons for free merchandise. My country thinks it’s okay to be trillions of dollars in debt.

    It all blows my mind.

    • I noticed the “free money! more stuff!” mentality as well. It just makes me think that the people complaining about how little it is aren’t the ones who really NEED the extra money.

  2. I remember the discussions of the minimum wage in the UK: the same point about the impact on employers came up then.

    The best solution I encountered was that the proportion of minimum wage jobs often decreases as companies grow (for example, multinational coffee chains have many low-paid counter-staff, but also have the better paid middle-management, accounts, &c. to support the brand as a whole). So if you set an exemption for small businesses you do not prevent the one-man coffee stand from employing a second member of staff, but still improve the wages of many low-paid workers.

    The issue is not just caused by some people not perceiving the value of money: it is also caused by the competing drives to change the value of money; changes in the exchange rate benefit some businesses but not others and make the money in your pocket buy more or less of staples.

    • There’s always a lot of elements to these decisions, and to the reactions afterwards. As it is, the unions were pushing for an increase of about $30 an hour, and the business advocates were pushing for just under $5 an hour. So the end result seems pretty reasonable all round. I like that solution.

  3. Whenever I am tempted to empathize with business owners who warn of dire harm to their business as a result of a rise in the minimum wage, I remember that they did the same thing when unions were campaigning for an eight-hour workday. And a five-day work week. And child labor laws. And workplace safety laws.

    In short, business owners will always complain whenever they are compelled to give concessions that will benefit their workers. That’s the function of self-interest. A major function of society (and government as the agent of that society) is the strike the balance of the interests of the various parties within that society. A great many of the interests of business are looked after by government. It’s only right that workers should get some of that love, as well. And a living wage for even the lowliest is definitely something any society should be willing to guarantee.

    The bottom line is, business owners always warn of a financial apocalypse every time they are forced to provide something extra for their workforce. The reality is, that apocalyptic prediction never comes true. If a business truly can’t sustain itself while paying its workers enough to maintain a basic, decent life, that would seem to say more about the long-term viability of that business than about the wrongness of a mandated raise. No economy has ever tanked because of a rise in the minimum wage.

    • While I agree in principle — and certainly when we’re talking about big chain stores and the like — small businesses run by a husband and wife with only a couple of employees can be a bit different. Not that I advocate no one getting a pay increase — I’m just quite happy not to bleed people dry in order to do it. (And if the people getting the payrise are wondering whether they should use it to buy junk on eBay or go to the movies, I don’t think they’re struggling too much with maintaining a basic, decent life. 😉 )

  4. Awesome perspective. That’s exactly what I would have done. Putting it that way it’s really not so bad!

  5. Great post, great perspective, thank you.

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