The Story of the Minimum Wage in Australia
The Story of the Minimum Wage in Australia - by Sam Wallman:  For most of us, Australia is a great place to live with a high quality of life.  But it wasn't always the case.  Before unions were established more than a century ago, there was no such thing as a weekend.  Or annual leave.  Or sick leave.  We have much to thank those early unionists for.  But for many the fight goes on. A cornerstone of a civilised way of life is a decent wage.  A decent wage is like a vital organ.  Not just a minimum wage...but a living wage.  A decent income that includes weekend rates, overtime allowances and annual leave.  "Wots the union ever dun 4 me!?" CEO's in Australia earn 83 times what an average worker earns.  If the bosses lives in the penthouse, then the rest of us live on the ground floor.  Australian Minimum Wage: $16.37.  A National minimum wage provides the income floor for all works in Australia.  The USA's minimum wage: $7.25.  The UK's minimum wage: Ł6.31. These days with rising living costs it's getting harder and harder to make ends meet.  Especially now there are no guarantees about job security.  Some people are working two even three jobs just to get by.  Influential people like Gina Rinehart: "You people are so entitled!!" want us to compete with workers in developing economies, who earn less than $2 a day.  And just recently right-wing lobby group "The Institute of Public Affairs" called for the total abolition of the minimum wage. Every year, unions seek to raise the minimum wage for the whole country.  As part of this wage review process, workers submit a claim through their unions.  And their bosses and their cronies always oppose it.  Over 1.5 million workers rely on this annual wage case run by unions.  That's 15 packed-out MCGs full of workers.  It's more important than ever that unions are there protecting the pay and conditions that make up a decent wage.  Now is not the time for the Federal Government to be backing big business as they come after the pay of hard-working people. Without workers in unions, Australia would soon become a country full of people who are always working, but always poor. If we all work together, and if we have the support of the community, we can defend what we've got, and build on it further.  Australian Unions.  Join.  For a Better Life.

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


  1. James
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 12:30 pm · Reply

    That’s a fantastic encapsulation of the importance of the minimum wage, thanks. Is there a video link that we could use in delegate training?

    • the Working Life Team
      Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 6:50 pm · Reply

      Hi James, there is no video yet but we are looking into it.

  2. Bronwyn Edney
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 1:15 pm · Reply

    Great format..Cartoons seem much easier for some to handle & less offensive to get the point across..Well done to the writer & the illustrator. Thank you for sharing…B

  3. Daniel
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 3:16 pm · Reply

    This is really fantastic!

  4. gary bennell
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 4:09 pm · Reply

    Maybe there are some working people out there who are opposed to unions. Their Mantra being ‘What have the unions done for me?’ Well they have done a huge amount for ALL of us. It’s not just ME, but US that have benefited from our unions.

  5. Sam S
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 5:12 pm · Reply

    Amazing comic, I will be sharing it around my workplace.

  6. ricky
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 5:45 pm · Reply

    thank you for that :)

  7. Simon
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 9:03 pm · Reply


    I agree, we should get a video of it and use it in delegate training.

  8. Jasmine
    Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 at 11:09 pm · Reply

    This is a great cartoon of a great story. Could ACTU PLEASE have it translated into other languages so Union Organisers/delegates can utilise the materials to speak with workers, who don’t have good English skills?

    • Jenny
      Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 9:57 am · Reply

      Great idea Jasmine.

  9. sooz
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 9:36 am · Reply

    Sorry but I find this disappointing in that women don’t get a look-in – you’d think most workers in Australia were brawny men working on building sites based on these images – what about all the nurses, the shop assistants, bank workers, marketing and all the ‘new’ Internet jobs. That’s the world of work which most young people will be entering.

    • jessie
      Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 11:02 am · Reply

      Just want to point out that there are clearly women workers depicted in the comic – from the looks of it, they cover a range of professions: a tradie of some kind in the family panel where the dad is putting dinner on the table, and in the minimum wage submission panel in the background there are a number of women – a call centre worker, a cleaner, one of the labourers working on the big dollar coin is a woman, the UK factory worker is a woman, there are two women in the protest panel towards the start of the comic….perhaps you have just assumed they are men, without looking closely enough. And two more women – the “living wage” panel and the woman on the train are not obvious “worker” types – one is older (and apparently a liberal voter) and the other could be any profession at all – the point being that the efforts of unions benefit everyone.

  10. Dolores Neilley
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 9:44 am · Reply

    Fantastic! We have to become creative in fighting abbottism and its mastering of the art of convincing people! We must tell the truth in an appealing way so their lies are exposed!

  11. David
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 9:52 am · Reply

    Great cartoon. Can the Working Life articles have a printable format in future?

    • the Working Life Team
      Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 10:45 am · Reply

      We hope to have some of the best images in the cartoon available as downloadable posters not too far in the future.

  12. Jane Timbrell
    Jane Timbrell
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 9:58 am · Reply

    This is such a good comic story. I hope it goes viral. I have just visited the Tolpuddle Martyr’s Museum in the UK. They were transported to Australia for forming a union, because their wages were so low that they couldn’t feed themselves. I hope things don’t have to get that bad again!

  13. Sharon
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 10:03 am · Reply

    Terrific gets the message across .

  14. Adam
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 10:24 am · Reply

    People who dont like unions are just scabs crying over spilt milk??? Time to name and shame… just like the MUA did in WA.

  15. Anne Collins
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 10:44 am · Reply

    Very innovative way of getting the message about our unions across, however I have to agree with sooz – it is a bit disappointing that no women were included, after all they have contributed just as much to the union movement as men have. Get with the times guys!

    • jessie
      Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 11:18 am · Reply

      Anne, see my reply to sooz’s comment above – I think is a misreading – there are plenty of women in the comic!

  16. dominic
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 11:12 am · Reply

    Yes great cartoon! make sure a copy gets to the media as i’m sure would get a good go on talk back.

  17. George Naumovski
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 11:38 am · Reply

    No matter how they word it, Conservative governments believe in the “slave & master” rule, every policy is governed by this rule and no matter how low the minimum wage is, it’s still considered too high because it a wage!

  18. James
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 11:42 am · Reply

    There should be a way people who don’t contribute to the unions don’t receive any benefit from union work. Unless they earn less than the minimum wage.

  19. William Boedewr
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 12:00 pm · Reply

    A concern in common with the theme of this particular matter is the average worker’s Banking institution.
    More and more today Banks are seeking to consume even more of each workers wages and or salary.
    The fact that the number of defalcations occurring within the Banks own senior and executive levels seems to be on the rise these past years, I am strongly concerned that this rising evil has not been pursued anywhere near enough to make this avaricious predilection they have to pursue their rising double-digit annual profit growths each year.

    I myself have embarked on a campaign to bring this matter to the fore of our Federal government ministers and our PM in the most straight forward manner that will not have this concern ignored.
    I would like to offer that this be another matter that can be incorporated into the strategies conducted on behalf of Australia’s working people by your very good selves
    Though I no longer be a link in the chain in today’s Australian working environment I endeavour to keep a sharp eye on this other of our society’s most toxic of corporate banking illnesses.

    Kindly yours,

    William Boeder.

  20. Thomas
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 1:49 pm · Reply

    Great idea, and beautifully drawn – good work!
    However, it also demonstrates how unions – and Australian culture in general – contribute to poor living and social conditions here in Australia:
    1. There is a strong US vs. THEM message, where one has to FIGHT to get your right. Coming from Denmark, I’m used to a far more cooperative and collaborative relationship between workers unions and bosses unions. With proper attitudes from both sides, more than 90% of Danish work-agreement disputes are settled fairly and amicably between these two sets of unions, and it rarely gets to antagonism, let alone strikes or sackings.
    2. Bosses are not evil and should not be drawn in that way, just like “scabs” have their own reasons and should not be shamed. Again, cooperation is better, culturally and financially, both for workers and for society.
    3. A worker is not a hero, and the fight for better working conditions is admirable but not to be worshiped for its own sake. A question always to ask is: Are you fighting for a good cause, or do you just love the fight itself?
    4. Many modern workers wear white collared shirts and might work with spreadsheets, HR, or whatever. The old idea of a worker, with safety helmet and beer gut, might have been culturally relevant a generation ago, but these old cultural ideals should be updated, particularly since Australia needs to be smarter, more productive, more adaptable, more innovative, and more diverse, and more happy.
    It goes without saying that minimal wages – and decent social services and high taxation on high income – play a vital part in any civilised and happy society, and unions are essential to ensure this. However, this cartoon (though a good idea and well-drawn), and the culture that it reflects, only alienates those outside of the culture, and it prevents collaboration with those whose political views might differ.

  21. Jenny Klingler
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 1:50 pm · Reply

    This is brilliant!! It explains in a really easy-to-understand format what unions have achieved and why they are important. This is what I have needed as a delegate to explain to non-members what it’s all about in a simple format.

  22. wayne Burrell
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 2:05 pm · Reply


  23. Matt
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 5:02 pm · Reply

    Apparently nobody has heard of Supply and Demand.

  24. Phillip
    Thursday, 8 May, 2014 at 9:54 pm · Reply

    I agree with the minimum wage as a must have in the Australian economy and culture. However, two necessary requirements for the minimum wage to continue are:
    1) buying Australian-Made goods and food so other Australians can share the wealth, profits stay in the country and businesses remain owned by Australians.
    2) The abolition of free trade agreements. While Australians have enjoyed the cheap electronic goods and clothes combined with good incomes for the last 15 years, this comes at a cost. The cost has been Australian businesses selling, moving overseas or closing down. Losing these businesses means there are less profits remaining in the country, so wages are pressured, including the minimum wage.
    In summary, when you’re next buying your food, clothes, alcohol, tools etc. look for the Australian-Made logo, and if you can find an Australian-Owned business that is supplying the Australian-Made goods, even better. These businesses are the ones that will always meet the minimum wage requirements because they have the support of Australians.
    Wanting to live the high-life with Belgian beer, French wine, Japanese electronics, German cars, and Chinese clothes comes at a cost. The minimum wage.

  25. Alex
    Friday, 9 May, 2014 at 1:25 am · Reply

    A great way of presenting the ideas of unionism! Perhaps an idea for a future comic would be an introductory: “why you need to join your union?” and “how to organise in the workplace”. I think there does need to be more panels that show the necessity for workers to organise for themselves and which explicitly point to the importance of taking strike action to win demands.

    I’ve not seen a readily accessible guide for how workers can take industrial action, something that encourages self-organisation. This is something the ACTU should do, and do often (in print and online versions).

    I’d love to see a historical account of the Clarrie O’Shea General Strike of 1969, the actions of workers around Australia that smashed the penal powers and won us the right to strike.

    If the ACTU doesn’t want to fund something that points to militancy, a left-wing union should step up to the plate. These ideas are vital, they are under attack, and we need to find ways to communicate them which are appealing to young workers.

  26. mark gregory
    Friday, 9 May, 2014 at 10:19 am · Reply

    great concept and beautifully crafted … I wonder if it could be redesigned to flow left to right on the web page ?

  27. Barry
    Friday, 9 May, 2014 at 11:02 am · Reply

    Would be good if you could also tell the story of how the ‘basic’ wage (living wage) was created in Australia.and how it has been eroded over time by employers and right wing political intervention

  28. Robert Bryant
    Saturday, 10 May, 2014 at 11:59 am · Reply

    Non Union members should represent them selves to fight the E.B.A as they say unions do nothing so they should have their own non members to fight for or go on award but when Union comes on our site they talk to and ask questions but are not prepared to pay money like us members.also have copies off SAMS put on all sites.

  29. bob
    Wednesday, 14 May, 2014 at 3:43 pm · Reply

    This makes me sick. If Australian organisations didn’t have to spend millions of dollars in court defending themselves against unions and anyone else who doesn’t think that being bad at their job is a good enough reason to be fired, then they would be happy to increase wages.
    Here is a little secret – if you are good at a job, an organisation is most likely going to be happy to pay you to do it. Stop wasting everyone’s time and money and do your job. If you don’t like the conditions, leave and get another job.

  30. Liss
    Monday, 9 November, 2015 at 11:32 am · Reply

    This a great story that definately helped me in my assignment. so thank you very much

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