The Guardian 19 October, 2005

New pay boss opposed living wage

The right-wing economist appointed to head the Howard Government’s proposed Low Pay Commission is on the record opposing the idea that minimum wage levels should sustain basic living standards.

Professor Ian Harper bagged the Harvester Judgement of 1907, where the living wage principle was established, in an article for the conservative think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies.

While the conservative press is talking up Professor Harper’s credential as an economist and Christian, his writing on the minimum wage reinforce the worst fears of workers that wages are about to head south.

Writing for the CIS Policy magazine, Professor Harper noted how other countries weren’t burdened with the need to pay a socially determined minimum wage:

"...other countries did not try to divorce wages from the low levels of productivity characteristic of high-employment manufacturing industry. Employers in the sweatshops of lower Manhattan were not obliged to raise wages to ‘fair and reasonable’ levels....

"In reality, the standard of fairness and reasonableness was set by the higher wages paid (and afforded) by higher productivity primary industry. It was considered unfair and unreasonable to pay lower wages to those whose employers ... could not afford to pay wages at the same levels.

"Faced with the choice between greater wage dispersion and lack of international cost competitiveness, Australia chose the latter (while, faced with the same choice, the US chose the former).

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