New data showing wages growth will be released this week.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants to see wages growing faster and believes they should do as long as strong economic and jobs growth are maintained.
However, economists expect wages figures this week will show growth remaining around the lowest in at least two decades and only keeping a tad above recent benign inflation readings.
This comes at a time when employment has grown for a record 16 months in a row.
“I think the prospects are good,” Mr Turnbull told Melbourne’s 3AW radio when asked about the outlook for wages.
“You are seeing stronger economic growth, you are seeing more demand for labour. The laws of supply and demand have not been suspended.”
He says there are areas of skilled labour shortages which will put pressure on wages as employers seek the right staff, a point also made by Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe on Friday.
Dr Lowe told a parliamentary hearing he would feel “a lot better” if there was a pick up in wages growth.
Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor – who is putting together a policy for a living wage rather than a minimum wage – said the losers in the economy were workers whose wages were falling in real terms or flatlining when profits and productivity were rising.
“Ultimately too, that’s bad for the economy because of the effects on consumption,” he told Sky News.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, on the hustings of the Tasmanian state election, said it didn’t help that the Turnbull government wants to tax low earners more through a rise in the Medicare levy.
“Well over 80 per cent of Tasmanians are in that position (of) earning less than $87,000 a year. The taxpayers of Tasmania have a lot to lose,” he told reporters in Hobart.
In the meantime, Wednesday’s December quarter wage price index – the Reserve Bank’s preferred measure of wages growth – is expected to be yet another sombre affair.
Economists expect wages grew at a modest 0.5 per cent in the final three months of 2017, keeping the annual rate at two per cent and only just above the rate of inflation at 1.9 per cent.
Treasury is projecting a rate of 3.5 per cent in 2020/21 to help bring the federal budget back to surplus in the financial year.
Westpac economists expect with new enterprise bargaining arrangements providing lower wage rises than existing agreements, this will continue to be a drag on the wage price index.
Six-monthly average weekly earnings figures are released on Thursday.
The data tends to be more volatile than the wage price index but does express outcomes in dollar terms for different industries.
As of May, annual average weekly ordinary time earnings were around $80,200.