Wage rises show some improvement but continue to rise well below inflation

by Greg Jericho

The latest data from the Fair Work Commissions suggest wages continue to be deflationary as profits drive inflation

The latest fortnightly data from the Fair Work Commissions contained the first large lot of enterprise bargaining agreements lodged this year after the quiet bargaining period of the January holidays and revealed weak wage growth across the agreements.

The news is yet more evidence that concern about a wage-price spiral is laughably mistaken. In the fortnight to 10 February, 123 agreements were lodged covering 23,036 employees. The average annual wage growth across those agreements was just 3.1% – an amount that would be pitiful at the best of times, but during a period of high inflation signals a major fall in living standards for these workers.

The major agreement lodged during this period was in the rail industry, whose workers would be gaining a mere 2.9% rise in average wages over the next 2 years.

Among the best returns for workers was in the hospitality industry where 6 agreements across 730 workers deliver an average wage growth of 4.3% over 3 years. This return is much more consistent with the necessary long-term wage growth associated with inflation growth of 3% and private-sector productivity growth at the 10-year median of 1.7%.

While the fortnightly agreement results are quite erratic, a rolling 3-month average suggests there has been some good, if slow improvement in wage growth achieved through enterprise barning. The 3-month average is now 3.5%. And while this is a small fall from the 3.6% a fortnight ago, it suggests that workers are now able to regularly achieve wage growth that would in normal times represent an increase in real wages, but which continues to provide no impetus to inflation.

It is clear that workers are being responsible in their wage demands but are also the ones suffering the most from this current period of high inflation, while company profits continue to take an ever greater share of the national economy.

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