Hand showing money - AUD - Australian Dollars
Hand showing money - AUD - Australian Dollars Kritchanut

We're the lowest paid workers in the state

TWO of the five shires in the Northern Rivers are among the poorest paid workers in the state, new figures reveal.

Data released from the ABS yesterday showed the median employment income of Kyogle residents in the 2015/16 financial year was $31,933, while workers in the seemingly affluent Byron Bay brought in $33,178. The totals excluded government pensions and allowances.

Closely following suit was Richmond Valley residents taking home $39,299 and Ballina Shire residents making $39,782.

Lismore came out on top as the highest income earners in the region, with residents bringing home $40,074.

Kyogle and Byron Bay's poor earnings were slightly above the remote western town of Wentworth which was ranked the lowest area in the state.

The ABS data further revealed Australians earned a median personal income of $47,692 in 2015-16, an increase of 1.8 per cent from the previous year.

While the rich and famous are known to flock to Byron Bay, Mayor Simon Richardson said the newly released figures were not surprising and being paid a lower wage was something residents needed to come to terms with.

"What it shows is that we are in a unique economic position," Mayor Richardson said.

"Ministers, for examples think we have streets paved with gold and everyone is incredibly successful because they think Byron has everything.

"Those who live here know that it's very hard to get full time employment ... it's easier to make your own job than to find one and it's easier to commute for work which puts a lot of stress on our community"

Mayor Richardson put the recorded low wages down to Byron's biggest industry, tourism.

"The biggest component of that is hospitality employment, which is not always full time and fraught with less scrupulous owners," he said.

"You can get business owners paying cash payments under the table, which perhaps also means workers won't declare their full earnings."

He said the boom in Byron's tourism over recent years had led to a double edged sword situation of low paid or unstable work and very a high cost of living.

"Most of us begrudgingly accept we will earn less here than we would elsewhere," Mayor Richardson said.

Mayor of Kyogle Council Danielle Mulholland said while Kyogle LGA had traditionally been a low socio-economic area, there was a discrepancy between the ABS population figures and the NSW Department of Planning population projection figures which may have affected data captured by the ABS.

"I'd suggest the ABS statistics may be based on population figures which suggest our LGA has a population of 8940 whereas the NSW Department of Planning shows our population at 9550," Mayor Mulholland said.

"This might partly explain the comparatively low income figures reported. It also doesn't consider Kyogle has an aging population as well as social capital such as volunteering and the Kyogle LGA has a high level of volunteer participation which contributes to our vibrancy and well being."

Social Futures Communications and Engagement Manager Geof Webb said the figures highlighted the murky waters of Australian wages.

"For the people who participate in our programs, poverty is a major contributor to their life challenges," Mr webb said.

"We know that whereas one in seven children grow up in poverty across the country, the average in the Northern Rivers is one in five and in some LGA's (Kyogle for example) is one in four. We still have two of our seven LGAs in the top ten of most disadvantaged in the country - according to SEIFA data."

The Social Futures programs span many, from homelessness and family breakdown to mental health and disability support.

"Last year almost 13,000 people accessed our services," he said.

"Many report having been short of money at some time. Sometimes this is because of mortgage or rental stress, through illness or unemployment, or simply because the levels of support they receive in their benefits are just too low. (Almost a third of Northern Rivers residents get Centrelink payment, including pensioners.)

Being short of money means they can't:

  • Afford food at the end of the fortnight. They may feed their kids and go without themselves. They may send the children to school with no breakfast or lunch.
  • Pay for energy and other services, so they don't put the heating or lights on in winter, or watch TV, or charge their phones or pay the internet so their kids can do their homework
  • Repair or register their car - and often people living in poverty have the worst/most unroadworthy cars. If they live out of town, this means they may not be able to get to work or to important health appointments. If they choose to drive their car unregistered, they risk being caught and fined which equals more debt.
  • Afford transport to get to job interviews.
  • Afford the bus fare for the kids to go to school.
  • Buy school uniforms for the kids, who are then bullied and stigmatised by other pupils.

They sometimes

  • Borrow money from pay day loan companies at high interest rates, which they can't repay and end up in spiralling debt they find impossible to get out of. In the worst cases, this results in depression and even suicide.
  • Reduce their medications. For someone with complex health needs, even with a health care card, the cost of medicines adds up.