The Oxfam Report Growing Gulf Between Work and Wealth shows wealth inequality in Australia has been on the rise over the past two decades, with the gulf between the amount of wealth held by the top 1% and the bottom 50% now the greatest at any time over this period. The richest 1% of Australians continue to own more wealth than the bottom 70% of Australians combined. While everyday Australians are struggling more and more to get by, the wealthiest groups have grown richer and richer.
According to published company annual reports the yearly remuneration of senior executives of large corporations can be measured in the millions of dollars. These are the people who warn that if a Labor government wins office the trade unions will force all industry players to the negotiating table, resulting in the payment of much higher wages. The cost of these, they claim, will force some industries out of business and severely impact the profitability of others.
Melbourne University professorial research fellow, Mark Wooden, says over the last few years wages at the bottom of the pay scale have been boosted by increases in the minimum wage handed down by the Fair Work Commission. However workers at the next level are standing still or going backwards. That reduction in real wages translates into a reduction in spending power. That loss of spending power is likely to do more harm to the profitability of businesses than sensible wages increases.
There is an ethical as well as an economic argument for paying good wages. People should be able to earn enough to provide food, clothing, education and health care for themselves and their families. They should be able to have a home to live in and prospects for a reasonable income should they live to retirement age.
It would seem that many of our business leaders have forgotten what it is like not to be able to afford the necessities of life. And perhaps they have overlooked not only the ethical but also the social need to share wealth fairly.