Australians face growing wage inequality and the threat of an American work culture of longer hours, low wages and poor job security, the peak labour organisation has warned.
In a new report, the Australian Council of Trade Unions says income inequality is at its greatest level in 70 years with a majority of Australians experiencing a decline in living standards and job security, reports Sydney Morning Herald.
Describing inequality as “the challenge of our time”, the ACTU warns that if Australia fails to change course it is at risk of becoming an “Americanised society of high inequality and dead-end jobs, with long working hours, no holidays, zero job security and poverty pay levels”.
“These are the economic conditions that breed high levels of crime, discrimination against minorities and a broad range of social problems,” the report says.
“Australia must not go any further down this path. Instead we must return to being a country in which families on a normal income can afford to buy a home, provide a good education for their kids and have a decent standard of living.
“Societies that pay their workers fairly and provide job security tend to have low crime levels, less social problems and are more inclusive.”
The federal government has denied inequality is a problem. Citing OECD data, the ACTU says that since the mid-1990s, income inequality in Australia has been getting worse.
“Real incomes for the top quintile of households grew by more than 40 per cent between 2004 and 2014 while those for the lowest quintile only grew by about 25 per cent,” it says.
“Despite a blip just after the global financial crisis, when share prices fell for a short period and those rich enough to make lots of income through their investments took a hit, it is the clear that the general trend has been towards widening income inequality.”
Rapid increases in the value of property, shares and other assets has meant wealth inequality has increased more sharply than wages inequality.
OECD economic survey data shows income levels of wealthier Australians rose by almost double the rate of increase gained by poorer Australians.
“The share of national income that goes to labour is at its lowest level in over 50 years. Meanwhile, the share of national income going into profits has increased dramatically since 1990,” the report says.
The ACTU recommends removal of incentives to casualise work, restoration of a fair and independent industrial umpire, ensuring a level field for enterprise bargaining and rebuilding a strong safety net for all workers.
“Decades of neo-liberal policies centred on attacking workers have been central to rising inequality in Australia,” the ACTU report says.
“The current tax system allows many corporations to pay little or no tax.
“Instead of moving further down the path that the USA has travelled we need to turn around and move in the direction of countries which combine rising living standards, fair wages, strong labour market institutions and decent societies.”