Wage freezes, penalty rate cuts slashing workers' super: report

 abc.net.au  9/17/2017 2:02:27 PM   AM By senior business correspondent Peter Ryan

Posted September 18, 2017 00:02:27

Superannuation funds could be drained by as much as $100 billion as companies slash wages and force workers out of long-standing enterprise agreements to deliver better returns for shareholders, a union-commissioned report has found.

Key points:

  • Australian wage growth is at 2 per cent — the slowest rate in decades
  • Report found in cases where enterprise agreements were cancelled, individual retirees could lose up to $270,000
  • TWU urges Government to ensure superannuation funds do not invest in companies suppressing wages

The study cites wages theft, wage freezes, reduced penalty rates and cancelled workplace deals as factors diluting the overall superannuation pool, which could ultimately mean smaller retirement nest eggs for some Australian workers.

Companies singled out include Qantas, where thousands of jobs were lost in a restructure, and aviation services provider Aerocare, which has been accused of recruiting workers on below award conditions.

Aerocare provides safety checks and ground handling services to airlines such as Qantas, Jetstar, Singapore Airlines and Virgin.

Last month, the Fair Work Commission rejected Aerocare's enterprise agreement as unfair and unsatisfactory for its workers.

Streets Ice Cream, Griffin Coal, Aurizon and Murdoch University have also been named for suppressing wages through the cancellation of enterprise agreements, according to the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute.

The study was commissioned by the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which has been locked in a long-running battle with Qantas and its outsourcing partner Aerocare over worker pay and conditions.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said around 3 million people — or a quarter of the workforce — would see their retirement savings weakened through wage suppression because of lower superannuation payments compounded over time.

Mr Sheldon told the ABC's AM program superannuation funds and the Government's Future Fund needed to urgently review companies they invested in to determine whether they were engaged in suppressing wages.

"This is a race to the bottom on lower wages and conditions and is ultimately harming the retirement incomes of the very people they are supposed to support," Mr Sheldon said.

"If a company is boasting of a sharply lower wage bill, super fund directors need to see it as a red flag, not a green light."

Individual retirees could lose up to $270,000

The report comes days after Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce received long-term incentive payments, taking his 2017 pay deal to $24.6 million for successfully restructuring the airline.

According to the report, wage suppression created a $37 billion black hole in Federal Government revenue through lost taxes on superannuation contributions and the outlook for higher-aged pension payouts.

It found that in cases where enterprise agreements were cancelled and workers were forced on to the minimum award, individual retirees could lose as much as $270,000.

The report also cited wage theft scandals at Dominos, 7-Eleven and Caltex, and said where workers were illegally underpaid, retirement savings could be slashed by more than $50,000.

It said where employers imposed a temporary wage freeze, retirement nest eggs could be reduced by $30,000 over an individuals' retirement period.

Mr Sheldon urged the Government to ensure superannuation funds acted in the best interests of their members by not investing in companies that suppressed wages.

"The Federal Government is standing by and allowing this to happen, even supporting companies which rip their workers off," Mr Sheldon said.

The report referenced research from Macquarie Bank that showed employee-friendly companies outperformed hostile employers by 6.6 per cent annually.

Concerns about wage suppression and wage theft came as Australian workers experienced the slowest wages growth in recent decades of less than 2 per cent.

Follow Peter Ryan on Twitter @peter_f_ryan and on his Main Street blog.

Topics: superannuation, australia

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