The Equal Remuneration Order has been in place for over a decade in recognition of the poor wage levels paid in industries with predominantly female workers, hence delivering fairer wages to workers in the homelessness sector. In February 2023, the Federal Homelessness and Housing Minister confirmed to the sector that the Government plan is to discontinue the Federal component of this funding from 1 July 2023. This is anticipated to have a significant impact on the Victorian specialist homelessness sector. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Equal Remuneration Order and what is the issue?
In 2012, in recognition of low wages in the social, community and disability sectors, the Fair Work Commission made a ruling to raise the wages of workers through the Equal Remuneration Order (ERO).
Since then, the Federal and State Governments have provided supplementation funding to services through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) to meet the costs of fair wages, in line ERO, without needing to reduce services.
A new NHHA is being negotiated between the Federal, State and Territory Governments this year. The current NHHA, which is due to expire on 30 June 2023, will continue for another year – yet the Federal Government has not extended its ERO supplementation funding.
What does this mean for Victoria’s homelessness services?
Discontinuing the Commonwealth share of ERO funding represents a $23.5 million funding cut to Victorian homelessness services in 2023–24.
Without this funding, homelessness agencies will need to cut services and this would mean job losses.
It is estimated that the cut equates to around 200 Victorian homelessness workers, who respond to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. This is female-dominated workforce – the same workforce the ERO is designed to support.
This means less workers who deliver services, less workers who support people to access services, and less workers who support people into housing.
Victoria is already in a housing crisis. Housing affordability and cost of living pressures are pushing more working people to seek help from homelessness services. Yet, already homelessness services are forced to turn away 16,000 people per year due to lack of resources.
Victorian homelessness services need more funding, not less.
What is the background to the cuts?
The Federal Government only committed ERO supplementation up to June 2021 and initially did not extend it beyond this expiry date.
After campaigning by the sector, the then-Government agreed to extend the funding for two years, taking us to June 2023.
The then-Labor opposition were vocal supporters of the sector’s push for the Federal ERO supplementation to be extended, and put pressure on the Coalition Government to continue providing funding.
Yet, in the October 2022 Budget, the Federal Labor Government did not include further funding beyond June 2023. The Federal Government is now saying the funding responsibility sits with the State and Territory Governments.
What we are doing to stop the cuts
Council to Homeless Persons has already written to the Hon Julie Collins, Minister for Homelessness and Minister for Housing, to express our concerns and call for a return to the position the Labor Party took when in opposition. We have also contacted the Treasurer.
Minister Collins was part of the Federal Government that backed the ERO case, holding relevant ministerial portfolios at the time, including Minister for Community Services and Minister for the Status of Women.
Homelessness Australia is also raising concerns with the Federal Government about the lack of Commonwealth ERO funding in the NHHA negotiations.
Homelessness Australia, in partnership with National Shelter, CHIA and ACOSS, has launched a joint letter campaign calling on the Government to reverse funding cuts to ERO. Council to Homeless Persons is supporting this campaign.
What you can do to stop the cuts
Council to Homeless Persons is encourages its member organisations to sign the letter to the Treasurer, the Hon Dr Jim Chalmers, which closes on 24 February 2023.
Please note: the letter must be signed by a person with the appropriate authorisation in their respective organisation. If that is not you, please forward the letter for the attention of the relevant person.
We also encourage you and your organisations to raise your concerns about this pending budget cut with your local Federal Member of Parliament and / or write directly to Minister Collins or Treasurer Jim Chalmers.
To find out more about how the cuts might impact funding for your service, you can write to Homes Victoria at [email protected] to request this information.
To get involved with advocacy actions, or discuss an idea to campaign for continued Commonwealth ERO funding, please get in touch with the Council to Homeless Persons Policy and Communications team:
Council to Homeless Persons will continue to provide updates on this topic via eNews, which you can sign up to below.