A living wage is what it sounds like: a wage that allows workers to live, not just survive. A living wage is not the same as the minimum wage – the latter is not always enough to cover the cost of living, as many workers who are currently trying to survive on the minimum wage know only too well.

A famous 1906 legal case in Australia, known as the Harvester Judgement, set a benchmark for the concept of a living wage in this country.

In the Harvester case, the judge H.B. Higgins expressed the idea that “fair and reasonable wages” should be enough to support a “human being in a civilised community”.

Higgins wrote:

If, instead of individual bargaining, one can conceive of a collective agreement – an agreement between all the employers in a given trade on the one side, and all the employees on the other – it seems to me that the framers of the agreement would have to take as the first and dominant factor the cost of living as a civilised being.

The Harvester Judgement became fundamental to Australia’s industrial relations system for most of the 20th century.

Every worker deserves a living wage

The vast majority of retail and fast food workers are paid a minimum wage, or only a few cents more an hour than the absolute minimum.

Workers on junior rates, trainee rates and other kinds of poverty wages are paid even less than this.

In a cost of living crisis, the bare minimum or less is nowhere near enough. Workers cannot live with dignity or security when struggling to even keep a roof over our heads.

Members of RAFFWU are fighting to change this.

In 2020 and 2021, young workers and RAFFWU members at Better Read Than Dead bookstore won one of the best retail agreements in the country, with a base hourly rate above the minimum wage. Workers achieved this with staunch organising, community support, and in the face of hostile bosses.

Our members at workplaces including Coles and Woolworths are also taking action to secure a living wage – the first time that supermarket workers, outside of meat workers, have taken industrial action in Australia.

We believe that every worker deserves a living wage.

Imagine not having to worry about every bill or rent payment, school costs or all the other things that are part of living.

Way back in 1906, in the Harvester case, the cost of living was taken to include things like clothes, shoes, furniture, books and newspapers. These are not luxuries but basic dignities.

Join us today in the fight for a living wage.

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