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Unions call for thaw of superannuation freeze

More than six years have passed since Tony Abbott’s LNP government put a freeze on a previously agreed-to pattern of annual rises in workers’ superannuation through to what would have been 2019 – and Australia’s union movement called on Friday for that freeze to be reviewed and revoked.

And the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has issued its position that if the initial moves of the Abbott government to enact the freeze on superannuation and the follow-up decisions by the Turnbull and Morrison governments to maintain that ruling represents a freeze of sub-zero proportions, it may be time to hit a defrost button on it – rapidly.

“Any further delay to the super guarantee increase will rob millions of workers of the best and healthiest years of their retirement, including workers who have performed essential work during the crisis,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.

The ACTU further spelled out its position in a document entitled A Retirement That Never Comes, where the organisation lays out several different factors – such as a brief history on the Hawke government’s creation of the superannuation scheme, the Keating government’s vision to raise it to a 15 per cent employer contribution over time, the Abbott government’s initial decision on the superannuation freeze, what a reinstatement of superannuation rises would look like, and the impact of what the loss of superannuation since 2014 has had on peoples’ lives.

If the Abbott government, under treasurer Joe Hockey and finance minister Matthias Cormann, had left the superannuation scheme in the way of the incremental rises legislated under the Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, working people would have been able to partake in rises of 0.5 per cent in their retirement savings at the start of each financial until it hit 12 per cent in 2019.

Instead, in September 2014, the Abbott government won its objective for a superannuation freeze for the succeeding seven years.

“… by delaying the increase in the superannuation guarantee levy, we are keeping more money in workers’ pockets,” Abbott said on that day in the Parliament, in defending the LNP bill that produced an ALP counterpoint of “a 25-year-old Australian earning $55,000 a year will be over $9,000 worse off by 2025.”

Abbott also believed that the freeze in superannuation would also allay itself into a rise in wages from employers passing on the superannuation savings to their workers – and as any wage-earners know, that hasn’t happened.

The double-whammy of several years of stagnant or non-existent wage rises alongside a frozen state of superannuation has resulted in projected lost retirement earnings for workers in each of the following professions since 2014:

  • Barista — $3110.26
  • Pharmacy sales assistants — $3254.93
  • Retail worker — $3267.55
  • Retail supervisor – $3541.21
  • Store persons — $4137.68

And for the frontline workers who have been invaluable during the pandemic, the losses incurred over the same interval are even more mind-boggling:

  • Delivery drivers — $3199.12
  • Aged care worker — $3554.89
  • Childcare worker — $4397.60
  • Call centre/contact centre workers — $5113.32
  • Local government workers — $4674.93
  • Ambulance officers and paramedics — $5609.82
  • Registered nurses — $6420.88
  • Police — $7032.31
  • Teachers — $7056.41

As each of those represent pretty tidy superannuation sums over a seven-year freeze, the prospect of imagining what may occur should another freeze at 9.5 per cent superannuation hit – the ACTU and Industry Super Funds project that individuals’ losses could skyrocket exponentially into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Currently, starting next July 1 to mark the start of the 2021-22 financial year, that 9.5 per cent rate of employer-compulsory contributions would be due to increase to an even 10.0 per cent, then going up by 0.5 per cent annually until capped at 12.0 per cent in the 2025-26 financial year.

This falls far short of Paul Keating’s vision of a 15 per cent rate of employer-compulsory contribution rate for superannuation back in the 1995-96 budget.

But on the same day in which the ACTU released its A Retirement That Never Comes report, the Morrison government – via treasurer Josh Frydenberg – released its own report on the state of superannuation as well.


Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who hints at other options should a 9.5 per cent superannuation rate remains in place (Photo from ABC News and Marco Catalano)


The government’s Retirement Income Review, either as a lengthy tome of over 660 pages or as an abbreviated summary of just under 45 pages, comes down to the same conclusion – the government continues to be against increasing the 9.5 per cent superannuation guarantee, and while it may not stand in its way, it would leave the possibility open of capping it in next May’s federal budget.

Frydenberg, in announcing the release of the government’s report, said that if superannuation is frozen again, people would have other options at hand, such as accessing equity in their homes or consulting financial planners for alternative advice instead of relying on superannuation at 9.5 per cent for their retirements.

“Like any complex system, it is not beyond improvement and the report’s many observations and detailed analysis will be used by the government in consideration of future policy decisions,” Frydenberg said.

In rebuttal, O’Neil said that workers could face the prospects of being required out of necessity to work beyond age 65, and likely into their 70’s – much like in an American example – to build up retirement savings the longer the superannuation rate remains frozen at 9.5 per cent.

“The Retirement Incomes Review was supposed to provide certainty – instead the Australian people are left wondering whether next year’s superannuation increase to 12 per cent, promised to them and enshrined in law will be stripped away by this government,” she said.

“Delaying the super increase punishes the workers who have paid the biggest price to keep us safe. They have lost hours, pay and jobs and many have run out of sick leave, annual leave and long service leave – now they are being asked to sacrifice their retirement years,” O’Neil added.

O’Neil also said that the Morrison government needs to honour the forthcoming rise in superannuation, which the ACTU – citing how it is overdue after the majority of seven years of a deep freeze – maintains it is in the best interests for Australia’s working classes.

“The Government is clearly aware of what needs to be done to provide a secure retirement but refuses to do what’s needed, instead continuing to attack the system which it opposes on an ideological level,” said O’Neil.

If the best means to combat a freeze is with heat, then by applying heat on the Morrison government, O’Neil and the ACTU are advocating a quick thaw.

“If the Morrison government is serious about supporting Australians in retirement, it must support the increase in the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent,” she added.


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  1. Andrew J. Smith

    Useful information as opposed to the campaigning through media for super contribution freeze, presenting it to be in employees’ own (short term) financial interest, when it is about constraining the influence of industry funds.

    What is never mentioned are issues such as ageing permanent population with change in ratios of working age to pensioners, funded by tax payers, benevolent employers will volunteer higher wages in lieu of a SGC increase and the (demographic/financial data trends) showing the super system will not become more fully operational for retirement income for decades yet (in the meantime part pensions with part super will be part of the retirement income mix).

    Industry super funds can help educate members and others on financial literacy to head off this freeze off at the pass…. vs. becoming permanent, and coming generations paying higher taxes and/or accessing fewer services.

  2. wam

    The long term effect of privatisation on the job market is beyond my ken but the gut says a government satisfied with abrogating responsibility by giving a company $12000 a head to manage a one size fits all ‘cashless’ card is irresponsible.
    Their failure in stripping workers of conditions of employment and rise in super whilst they have taken several pay rises during the pandemic and 15.4 superannuation with no age restriction confirms their irresponsible greed.
    I got a note from the ATO that a school that I did some relief for 10 years ago, had found some withheld tax. To get it I had to log in to their site and agree to surrender the receipt of letter contact and a heap of conditions. Sadly my trust is shot?

  3. New England Cocky

    How can you reasonably expect a COALition misgovernment to do anything for ”the workers” when they have a deep preference for giving away everything owned or operated by government agencies for anything like a profit to their financial donors.

  4. TuffGuy

    With a government determined to continue the freeze on the super guarantee (despite themselves sitting happily making the taxpayer pay for their own 15%), and having a strategy to actively suppress wages, including underemployment and further reduction of wages and conditions coming out of this pandemic, what chance has any worker got for retirement???

  5. Jack sprat

    Industry super funds are a complete anathema to the LNP government .Their non profit status and union affiliation are a complete rebuttal to their private ownership and profit driven ideology . The fact they out preform private super schemes irks them to no end .Especial now that industry super schemes have acquired large amounts of capital and thus can drive the market in the direction which best benefits and addresses the concerns of its menbers . With the excuse of the covid crisis it was game on for the conservatives to raid their coffers by allowing early withdrawal of contributions causing the super schemes to sell off shares when at the bottom of the market and thus allow the big end of town to buy them up at bargain prices follow the market and you can see how it has bounce back after all those early withdrawals of super . The freeze is just another attack on industry super by the LNP to curtail workers rights to a secure retirement ..

  6. Gangey1959

    Can someone please explain to me the point of having a large percentage of the population in a situation where at about age 65-70 we are too old, sick, feeble, tired, to keep working in (usually) lower paid jobs, we don’t quite own our houses, and our retirement savings are not enough to maintain a non poverty standard of living, because I just don’t understand what scotty and his mob are bullshitting us on and on about.
    “A fair go for those who have a go” was a good mantra for an election, but reality is what exists outside the houseofhappyclaps, and I am just tired of the crap I am being fed, and bone weary of driving the same shite around the warehouse night after night.
    In the words of our dear poorleen, “Please explain?”

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