Fact check: Who’s got it better on wage growth and penalty rates?


With the Federal Election just around the corner, Nurse Uncut investigates if your wages and penalty rates will be better off under Labor or the Coalition.

With the major parties battling over so-called “Middle Australia”, there’s never been a more important time to cut through the noise and get the facts on with whom you’ll be better off.

Over the Coalition’s term in Government, wage rises have been stagnant but stable – 2.5% for most public health workers in NSW – while penalty rates have been cut for some of Australia’s lowest paid workers. This “flat wage growth… is diminishing our sense of shared prosperity”, according to RBA governor Philip Lowe, and it’s becoming a real issue for our economy. It’s why both parties are keen to be seen as getting on with the job of increasing wages for Australians.

Here are each party’s plans for making this happen.

Scott Morrison and the Liberal and National Parties

Scott Morrison and the Liberal and National Coalition

Under the Coalition, wage growth has been minimal, while penalty rates have been cut in some industries. And they don’t appear to be moving quickly to fix these issues.

While Morrison says that he is “not opposed” to workers getting a pay rise, he doesn’t believe that it is the Government’s role to be involved in enforcing pay increases either.

For example, he points to his Government’s refusal to reverse penalty rate cuts set by the Fair Work Commission, noting that it was “independently set up to ensure certainty about wage issues”. This stance is expected to be applied if nursing and midwifery penalty rates were to be cut by the Commission in the upcoming term.

The Government’s hands-off approach can also be seen in their refusal to tamper with wage rates, stating that it will hurt jobs and stop people from being employed. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that wage rises result in higher unemployment rates.

Beyond this, however, the Coalition have been tight-lipped on their industrial relations policy, for which they have been criticised by unions and workers’ groups.

In a statement, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus demanded that Morrison “release the detail of his plans for industrial relations”.

“We deserve to know exactly what the Prime Minister would do if re-elected”, she stated.

Bill Shorten and the Labor Party

Bill Shorten and the Labor Party

In contrast to the Government’s laissez-faire approach, Labor has provided a more detailed platform on how it will address the wages emergency.

In signing up to the ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign, Mr Shorten has vowed to reverse penalty rate cuts in the first 100 days of Government, increasing the pay of some workers by up to $26,000 a year from when they were originally cut in 2017.

Labor has also indicated their intention to introduce a so-called “living wage”, and will be asking the Fair Work Commission to drive this change if they are elected. This will increase the take home pay of full-time minimum wage earners by $72.80 per week.

The Labor industrial relations policy also includes improved rights for casual workers and more stringent regulation of franchise and labour hire companies.

How does this affect nurses and midwives?

For most nurses and midwives, penalty rates comprise a large part of their weekly take home pay. While there is currently no known moves to cut penalty rates in nursing or midwifery, only Labor has guaranteed that they will reverse these cuts if they are ever to be attacked.

Further, Labor’s moves towards a “living wage” will significantly boost the wages of many in the health workforce, particularly assistants-in-nursing working in Aged Care facilities and hospitals.

Increased casualisation of staff, combined with the rise of big business and franchising in healthcare, will mean that these issues will likely be more relevant for nurses and midwives in the future.


Labor’s pledge to protect penalty rates and introduce a “living wage” will ensure that nurses and midwives are better off overall. With a more comprehensive industrial relations package and iron-clad pledges on increasing workers’ take home pay, Nurse Uncut is more confident that Labor will look after the wages and penalty rates of nurses and midwives.


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