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News News US low paid workers warn of the danger of a low minimum wage
WHEN unions organised a tour of Australia by a group of low-paid US workers to warn about the dangers of eroding the minimum wage, few might have thought Ian Harper would help to shine a light on their campaign.

After all, ever since Professor Harper was appointed 18 months ago to set minimum wages under the Howard Government's WorkChoices regime, unions have been savage in their criticism.

Only last month, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow said the Australian Fair Pay Commission chairman was "a lackey of business" after the commission granted the lowest minimum wage increase in a decade.

But in an unlikely twist in the relationship, Professor Harper has written to Ms Burrow seeking a meeting with her and the visiting US workers.

He will fly to Canberra today for a lunchtime chat, after expressing his desire to inform himself first-hand of their experiences.

The meeting is a counterpoint to another US visit - with the commission hosting in Melbourne tomorrow conservative US labour market economist David Neumark, whose research supports a low minimum wage.

Allen White, one of the touring low-wage workers, said he would urge Australians not to head down the US path.

Mr White, 41, works full time as a day porter-cleaner for a building complex in Charleston, South Carolina, for $US9 ($A10.48) an hour.

After tax and pension contributions, he takes home $US220 a week, has no paid sick leave and, despite being at the same firm for 10 years, only five days' paid annual leave.

"In the US, the federal minimum wage is $5.85 an hour - that's not enough for anybody to live off," he said. "All it does is raise the crime rate."

 
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