Voters support funding aged care wage rise, while IR laws show party divisions

A federal pledge to fund a pay rise for aged care workers has gained 59 per cent support from Australians ahead of the likely $1.8 billion annual cost of the move, but voters are not so sure about using taxpayer cash to boost childcare pay as well.

The idea of spending federal money on a pay increase for childcare wages has 46 per cent support from voters but is opposed by 31 per cent, with another 23 per cent unsure.

There is majority support for federal taxpayers to cover the cost of higher wages for aged care workers, the RPM poll found.Credit:

The findings highlight a divide in the community over workplace law after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese secured the passage of industrial relations changes on December 1 with a promise to “get wages moving” despite business fears about an increase in strikes.

The exclusive findings in the Resolve Political Monitor, conducted for this masthead by research company Resolve Strategic, show that 42 per cent support the new laws while 38 per cent are undecided and 20 per cent are opposed.

Views on the new workplace regime were heavily influenced by party support, with 60 per cent of Labor voters in favour but only 19 per cent of Coalition voters in favour. The package was backed by 38 per cent who identified as “uncommitted” when asked about their party loyalty.

Albanese has assured voters the sweeping new laws will not hurt the economy despite strong criticism from business leaders at changes that allow unions to demand common deals from employers across an entire industry.

“What it will do is aimed at lifting wages, particularly for the care sector and those people who’ve fallen behind,” Albanese said after the laws were passed.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is warning of higher costs and more strike action under the new rules, known as multi-employer bargaining.

“Strike escalations in many parts of the country in recent months are a result of the Labor government empowering union leaders since it came to power in May,” he said at the height of the debate over the laws.

“So, when union leaders say they’re committed to conciliation under multi-employer bargaining, at the very least, we should be very sceptical.”

The impact of the workplace regime is central to the political contest on the economy when Reserve Bank forecasts suggest real wages will keep falling until the second half of 2024, which means many workers will have lower real wages at the next election compared to the last one.

In an analysis of the RBA forecasts, the Australia Institute said its index of real wages stood at 97.8 in March this year and would fall over the next year before recovering slightly to 94.6 points in December 2024.

The Resolve Political Monitor surveyed 1611 eligible voters from Wednesday to Sunday, a period that included the censure motion against former prime minister Scott Morrison as well as the passage of new workplace laws.

Voters are split on whether the workplace changes will increase wages over the next two years, with 38 per cent saying they think this will happen but 23 per cent disagreeing and the single biggest group, 39 per cent, saying they are undecided.

Asked about business claims about higher prices and more strikes, 39 per cent agreed that this would happen but 23 per cent disagreed and another 38 per cent were undecided.

On taxpayer help for workers, however, a clear majority backed the government promise to fund the increase for aged care workers being decided by the Fair Work Commission.

Albanese has promised to fund an increase in aged care wages to cover the cost of an interim Fair Work Commission decision on November 4 to lift the rates by 15 per cent, although this could rise because unions are pressing for 25 per cent.

“This 15 per cent increase will impact some 300,000 workers in the aged care sector. These are the heroes of the pandemic. They deserve more than just our thanks, they deserve a wage rise,” Albanese said the day after the decision.

Impact Economics lead economist Angela Jackson has estimated the 15 per cent rise would cost taxpayers $1.8 billion a year.

StewartBrown partner Grant Corderoy has estimated the interim increase would go to 320,000 people and cost $1.9 billion a year.

Asked if taxpayers should fund the increase, 59 per cent were in favour and 22 per cent against, while 19 per cent were undecided.

With employers having trouble finding workers, the boost for aged care has led to calls from the childcare industry for similar taxpayer support to ensure they can keep staff.

“We would like to see a wage supplement being paid to educators before June next year,” Community Child Care Association executive director Julia Price said last month.

Asked about this idea, 46 per cent were in favour and 31 per cent were against, with 23 per cent undecided.

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