In late July the federal government announced that it would guarantee minimum wage levels for apprentices and trainees as part of its planned new training scheme, the Modern Apprenticeship and Trainee System (MATS), the establishment of which is provided for by the government's Workplace Relations Bill, currently being finalised. Apprentices and trainees employed under MATS, Australian Workplace Agreements or certified agreements and who earn less than the current National Training Wage will receive additional top-up payments from the government. The new minimum wage rates for apprentices and trainees range from A$128 per week for 16 year-olds to A$195 per week for those aged 18 and over.
--but pressure for a revamp of the whole system--
During late July the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) lodged a claim for pay rises of just over A$100 per week for the lowest paid members of the workforce. The ACTU claims that the move is designed to assist workers whose award wages effectively put them below the poverty line. The relatively small number of workers who would be directly affected by the wage claim are those on minimum award rates in low-skill jobs with few or no over-award payments. However, all other minimum award rates for more highly skilled jobs would also be increased in order to maintain pay relativities. If labour market conditions remain weak, these increases would be likely to be absorbed into existing over-award payments rather than lead to higher overall wage payments.
--produces a muted response from the federal government
The minister for industrial relations, Peter Reith, responded to the claim by stating that he was in favour of looking after the interests of the low paid, provided that the approach taken was compatible with overall policy objectives and particularly with the goal of maintaining low inflation. Mr Reith criticised the former Labor government's wage accords with the union movement for suppressing wages. However, he is unlikely to want to argue against wage rises for the low paid while his Workplace Relations Bill is still under review by the Senate.