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News News Statistics beat Hockey with his own stick
THE controversial findings of a Sydney University study that low-skilled workers on Australian Workplace Agreements earn about $100 a week less than their counterparts on collective agreements is backed by the most recent official statistics, new academic analysis shows.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, last week attacked research on working life in Australia by Sydney University's Workplace Research Centre, describing the authors as "trade union officials who are parading as academics".

During his rebuttal, Mr Hockey also used Bureau of Statistics earnings data collected in May last year to tout the benefits of AWAs. "The fundamental fact is, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that people on AWAs earn nearly twice as much as people on awards," he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

But Professor Alison Preston, from Curtin Business School, says the same bureau data actually supports the findings of the University of Sydney study that low-skilled workers on AWAs earn significantly less on average than those covered by collective agreements. "[Mr] Hockey has recently dismissed data released by the Workplace Research Centre at Sydney University showing that low-skilled workers on collective agreements earned roughly $100 more per week than low-skilled workers on AWAs," she said.

"The wage gaps uncovered by the Sydney University researchers would be on a par with average wage gaps estimated using official ABS data."

Professor Preston's analysis of detailed figures collected in May last year, but not published by the bureau, showed non-managerial workers on federal AWAs earned $76 a week less than their counterparts on collective agreements. For women on AWAs the weekly earnings disadvantage compared with those on collective agreements was around $110.

Professor Preston said it was likely the wage gap had widened since the bureau last collected data on employee earnings because there had been significant growth in the number of AWAs signed by low-paid workers in industries like retail and hospitality over the past 18 months.

"Initially AWAs were mostly made at the high end of town but now many have been made at the low end of town," she said.

A spokesman for Mr Hockey said yesterday the Sydney University study had received both criticism and support from academics since its release.

"The bottom line is that people on individual agreements and people on collective agreements have experienced significant wage gains over the past 18 months," he said.

"Our system supports all types of agreements."

The Bureau of Statistics figures provide a snapshot of earnings for workers on various employment arrangements six weeks after the Government's Work Choices reforms came into force last year.

However, a recent report by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said the bureau's report - entitled Employee Earnings and Hours Survey - provided "the most comprehensive guide to employee earnings under AWAs".

When Professor Preston compared the bureau's detailed unpublished data on wages for non-managerial workers on collective agreements with those on AWAs she found those on collective agreements earned 7.9 per cent more than their counterparts on AWAs. But non-managerial employees on AWAs earned 38.3 per cent more than those on awards.

 
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