The consequences of wage suppression for Australia’s superannuation system

Report commissioned by the Transport Workers Union

18 Sep 2017

This report presents results from several quantitative simulations of the impact of wage suppression on superannuation entitlements of affected workers, their long-run retirement incomes, and corresponding fiscal effects on government. The report considers several specific scenarios, corresponding to different instances of pro-active wage suppression strategies that have been experienced by Australian workers in recent years. It traces through the impact of those policies on workers’ wages, superannuation accumulations, and retirement incomes. The simulations also describe the spill-over impacts on government (arising from reduced taxes collected on superannuation contributions and investment income, and increased Age Pension payouts).

The simulations confirm that:

· Wage suppression undermines superannuation accumulations by automatically reducing employer contributions. Moreover, the damage is compounded over time due to the subsequent loss of investment income.

· Even temporary wage restraint measures (like temporary wage freezes) have lasting negative impacts on superannuation balances, by altering the trajectory of a worker’s wages for the rest of their career.

· The most dramatic instances of wage suppression – the termination of enterprise agreements by employers, and resulting large wage reductions as workers are placed back on minimum award conditions – can reduce the superannuation balance of a retiring worker by as much as $270,000.

· More modest wage suppressing policies (such as temporary nominal wage freezes, producing real wage reductions that are then sustained through a worker’s remaining years of service) reduce retirement superannuation balances by $30,000 or more.

· Government bears a share of the resulting losses, through both reduced tax collections before affected workers retire, and increased Age Pension payouts after they retire. In the worst-case scenarios, governments can experience fiscal losses of over $50,000 per worker (in real 2017 dollar terms).

· Millions of Australians have been confronted with one or more of these forms of wage suppression from their employers, so the aggregate impacts across the economy are enormous. Based on plausible estimates of the number of workers confronted with each form of wage suppression, the aggregate loss of superannuation balances on retirement (if the pattern of wage suppression is maintained) could ultimately exceed $100 billion (in real 2017 dollars) by the time affected workers retire, and the aggregate fiscal cost to government could reach $37 billion (in real 2017 dollars).

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