April 8, 2024

“It’s hard.” Here’s why these workers are struggling

Woman struggling to pay the bills
Workers are struggling to pay the bills (Photo credit: Adobe Stock)

United Workers Union (UWU) is asking for a 5 per cent rise in minimum and award wages from 1st July. We fight every year for a wage increase that will make a difference to workers’ lives. One thing is certain – employers never agree to real increases to our wages. 

That’s why UWU makes a submission to the Fair Work Commission each year, telling real stories of how our members are trying to survive and why award pay rates must be increased. 

We asked UWU members about the cost of living. Here’s what they said

We spoke to our members who work in industries including childcare, healthcare, aged care, cleaning and hospitality. Their earnings range from the current minimum wage of $23.23 to $30.00 or more per hour.

Almost all aspects of life have become difficult. Here are UWU members’ stories, in their own words.

The price of food, petrol, utilities and rent are ridiculous

Workers are having to budget hard and go without basics to afford rent and bills.

“I’m a single person paying a mortgage by myself and all the bills it’s very hard.” 
Wendy works in Aged Care in WA.

“I just try to cut back on the things that are not necessary. I usually only have 2 meals a day. I always try to pay child support and rent before spending my money on groceries.” 
Tamer works in Security in NSW.

Many UWU members say petrol and utility prices are unaffordable (Photo credit: Unsplash)

Workers are resorting to charity and credit

Many workers are telling us even when they budget carefully, they have to dip into super savings, rely on credit and charities or borrow from relatives – just to get by.

“My rent went up $120.00 a week in November. I have had to draw down on super to pay rent.”
James works in Disability in WA.

“I am often left relying on Afterpay, my partner or friends to keep extras paid for and food in my house.” 
Emma works in Optical in NSW.

“I have had to think about my priorities, fuel, air-conditioning, work shoes, sunscreen, food, mortgage, water, phone, internet, health fund, social occasions, borrowing money from my children.”
Helen works in Primary Ed in WA.

“I’m spending less on groceries coz I have help from my church they give us some fruits and vegetables. So we can pay the rent. And I have a second job which means less time with my little one.”
Kamila works in Hospitality in Qld.

Many members are resorting to charity to afford food (Photo credit: Unsplash)

Healthcare is unaffordable

When there’s not enough money each week to cover basic costs, medical care and bills often drop off the list. And the stress of not having enough money to make ends meet creates its own health problems.

“Body is in need of massages, deep heat, back brace, hydrotherapy, physio, chiro. I need health insurance to keep my job, which is a physical job.”
Peta is a cleaner in WA

“It causes extreme stress.”
Debbie works in Security in Qld

“…we don’t get to have money to see specialist doctors for my husband or myself so we have to go without”.
Nicole works in Aged Care NSW

Many workers are having to choose between their own health and other basic needs (Photo credit: Unsplash)

There’s no work/life balance

There should be more to life than just work. People are having to work more hours just to get by, or they can’t make enough money to go on a holiday or out for a meal.

“I don’t go on holidays anymore.”
John works in Hospitality in NSW.

“Buying basic food. Staying home not visiting family.”
Pieta works in Cleaning in Qld.

“Going without things..holidays away..new clothes.”
Matthew works in Aged Care in WA.

“I go without. Just go work to pay bill.”
Patricia works in Cleaning in NSW.

“I only work or sleep.”
Jason works in Health in WA.

After basic expenses, UWU members say there's nothing left (Photo credit: Unsplash)

Young workers can’t plan for their future

It’s heartbreaking to see younger workers unable to plan for their own future.

“I’m 30 years old. I don’t have any children of my own because I just can’t afford it. I desperately want to be a parent but I know my wages cannot cover the expense of raising a child. It’s so depressing that it’s taking a mental and emotional toll on my health. I spend my time educating other people’s children but I can’t have my own.”
Amy works in ECEC in Vic

“I am having trouble being able to afford to move out of my parents house. I can barely afford to rent.” 
Natalie work in ECEC in SA.

Rents have been rising for a long time and are unaffordable for people on the lowest wages (Photo credit: Unsplash)

‘Greedflation’ means prices go up but wages don’t

Something that comes up time and time again from UWU members is that expenses are rising but wages aren’t keeping up. There’s actually no great mystery about why this is happening – it’s corporate greed.

Employers use any excuse to keep wages down and profits up. The Australian Industry group is claiming wages only need to rise by 2 per cent because Labor’s stage 3 tax cuts will provide the rest. Corporate profits continue to rise , but so does the cost of living. 

The only way for wages to increase in real terms is for an increase in the minimum and modern awards to start to lift workers out of poverty.


 So, what would an extra $50 a week mean?

Fortunately, union members know what to do about profiteering companies and declining wages. We fight.

Our goal is to get a real pay increase for all workers on Award wages, by organising our 150,000 members to speak with one powerful voice

We asked members what impact winning an extra $50 per week would make, and many said it would be significant.

Would a $50 per week pay rise make a difference? (Photo credit: Flickr CCBY2.0)

“That would be able to provide peace of mind. This job is a job of love but we need to be a job that can support us”
Mikayla works in ECEC in WA

“That would help a lot”
Denise works in Cleaning in NSW

“It [would] help us to buy food”,
Gecelle works in Cleaning in Qld

“Help put food on the table”, 
Deb Health WA



Some say it’s not enough

“Not much difference considering cost of living is very high”
Vukica works in Cleaning in Qld

“Not much, it wouldn’t even cover petrol”
Colin works in Security in ACT.

“Having $50 increase not enough in line with the high expenses and high Income Tax.”
Najib works in Security in Victoria.


Fighting for more pay

We agree – no matter what we win, it won’t be enough. But one thing is clear, it will definitely be better than the measly 2 per cent that employers are calling for. At United Workers Union, we will always fight like hell to help members get the biggest pay rise possible.

Each year we make a submission to the Fair Work Commission to make our case for a higher pay rise and we need your help. You can read more about the process here.

The members you’ve heard from here have joined our cause. They’ve shared their stories with us to strengthen our case at the Fair Work Commission.

But we need to keep building our power. In this game, numbers really do matter. When we can say we speak for millions of workers, our voice grows louder, stronger and impossible to ignore.

Join with us as UWU members fight for better pay and a better future for every worker in Australia.

Are you ready get involved? Get in touch to find out how you can join the fight for better pay.

UWU members are joining to fight for better wages for all workers (Photo credit: UWU)