Students focus on hip pocket nerve

Student Mitchell Colbert says living on a casual wage has its challenges.

Tessa Grimes

Student Mitchell Colbert says living on a casual wage has its challenges.

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As students constantly juggle the demands of studying and trying to make ends meet from casual work, the federal campaign debate over wages has focussed their attention on politics more than usual.

Mitchell Colbert is a hospitality worker in Canberra and spoke about the ups and downs of living on a casual wage with the current awards system.

“It is very work-hour dependent,” he said. “It is a liveable wage. Granted, I receive consistent hours each week. During quieter periods of the year it becomes a bit tougher.”

And in terms of balancing his university commitments with casual work, Colbert admits it can be hard at times.

“I have often either committed too much to study and struggled financially or committed to more bulk hours at work while noticing my grades sliding.”

So what’s on offer from the political parties this election campaign?

Labor’s promise of a new ‘living wage’ is targeted at approximately 1.2 million Australians in casual work and apprenticeships, and according to shadow employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor, is one of the party’s highest priorities if a change of government were to happen.

“A living wage should make sure people earn enough to make ends meet and be informed by what it costs to live in Australia today – to pay for housing, for food, for utilities, to pay for a basic phone and data plan,” Mr O’Connor said.

Labor has seized on the Coalition’s refusal to increase the Newstart and youth allowances in the recent budget, claiming an ALP government would see an increased quality of life for those living week-to-week.

While Labor’s pledge to increase minimum wage rates, if elected, is welcome news for casual workers, there are warnings that it might come at the cost of those owning small businesses, leaving them potentially struggling to stay afloat.

According the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), this increase in the minimum wage would cost the country more than $8 billion each year.

ACCI spokesperson James Pearson says the shift to a so-called living wage “will dismay the hundreds of thousands of small and family businesses who depend on the current independent minimum and award wage setting process to set the wages they pay.”

“If Australia moves to massively increase minimum wages, jobs will be lost, hours cut, and businesses will go out of business.”

The Coalition stands behind the growth in the minimum wage from its time in Government.

Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations John Kelly said: “The minimum wage has increased every year under this Coalition Government, averaging one per cent above inflation. This is more than double the average increase seen under Labor.”

With the growing debate over the country’s economy, the election may well provide a shake-up to the future of the casual worker.