By Adam Gartrell
1 March 2018

• A massive survey of Australian workers has revealed widespread pessimism
• 71 per cent of workers feel like they are working harder for less
• 59 per cent of workers say they fear they will be fired in the coming few years
• Just one in 10 believe they are on track for a secure, dignified retirement
• Many people say they are struggling to pay for rent, health care and utilities

Australian workers feel like they're toiling harder for less, are struggling to pay basic household bills and increasingly fear the sack according to a survey that unions will use to push for an increase in the minimum wage.

"If there's ever a time for a big increase to the minimum wage, it's now," Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Ms McManus told Fairfax Media, as many low-paid workers brace for a second penalty rate cut in July. "It's in everyone's interests."

The ACTU's largest every survey, of nearly 60,000 workers including cleaners, teachers to miners and construction workers, also reveals deep pessimism about their chances of winning a pay rise and their ability to find fulfilling work if they lose their current jobs. It also finds people are finding it harder to save and are concerned about the next generation's prospects of permanent work as casualisation spreads.

The survey shows more than 70 per cent of workers feel like they are working harder for less, as bosses expect them to do longer hours, work unpaid overtime, and as cost-of-living increases eat away at their incomes.

More than half of workers - 59 per cent - say they fear they will lose their jobs in the next few years. And nearly 80 per cent of respondents fear they will not be able to find fulfilling work if they do lose their current job.

"People who have been in existing employment for a while fear there is a cliff to fall off if they lose that job. That cliff ends up being labour hire, or contract work, or casual work. They can see it happening," Ms McManus said.

People are also concerned for their kids' future in the workforce, with 90 per cent worried there will be fewer permanent and secure jobs for the next generation of workers.

Eight out of 10 respondents said it was hard to get a decent pay rise and just one in 10 believe they will be able to enjoy a "secure, dignified retirement".

But they're not just worried about making ends meet when they leave the workforce. Two thirds of people disagree or strongly disagree with the proposition that it is getting easier to put money into their savings.

Nearly half say they are finding it harder to keep up with mortgage and rent, and more people say they are struggling to pay for health care and dentistry (66 per cent), household utility bills (68 per cent) and service their credit card debts (53 per cent).

The survey found overwhelming support for equal pay and superannuation for women (91 per cent) and stronger laws to stop wage theft by employers (98 per cent). Nearly all respondents said they were worried about the casualisation of the workforce and believe the rules around collective bargaining should be fairer.

The survey of 57,959 people - 90 per cent of them union members - was conducted from September 2017 to February 2018, primarily online.

Ms McManus said the results could be boiled down to two main themes: Australians want more secure jobs and fair pay rises.

"They want pay rises that not only keep up with the cost of living but pay rises that are a fair share of productivity gains and profits," she said.

The ACTU will be making its claim in coming weeks. It called for a $45 a week rise last year, triple the previous claim. The Fair Work Commission subsequently awarded a $22.20 a week increase.