Are you paid enough? Here’s how to find out, and what to do next

It could pay to check if you are being underpaid.

It could pay to check if you are being underpaid. Photo: Getty

Debate continues about the federal government’s industrial relations reforms to get wages moving, but one question people might want to ask is: Am I being paid enough for the work I do?

With the cost-of-living crisis raging on, maybe it’s time to think about whether you are getting fair value for your effort?

Are you being paid enough for your job? Does the pay that you receive measure up to the market rates for the work you do?

Just to be clear, this isn’t about illegal underpayment or wage theft, this is about whether you are being undervalued in your work; how to find out, and what you can do about it.

The average weekly earnings for adults are $1883. And the median – the figure which 50 per cent of the population earn more than and 50 per cent earn less than – is much lower at $1250 per week.

But to find out what you’re really worth, you’ll need to get a bit more specific.

Is your pay on the money?

There are several sources you can rely on to check if you are getting paid in the right range for the kind of work that you do.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects data at an industry level, which provides a broad picture of the most lucrative industries to be in.

As this represents averages across entire industries though, it might not support a compelling case for a pay rise because it considers a wide range of occupations.

It might, however, put you in the ballpark and give you an idea of whether you should keep digging for more information to put the argument to your boss that you deserve a bit extra.

According to ABS data, the best-paying industry to work in is mining, with average weekly earnings of $2854.

That is followed by IT at $2318 per week and then professional, scientific and technical services at $2171 per week.

On the bottom of the ABS list is accommodation and food services, which has average weekly earnings of $1347.

Another source of information is the ATO, which publishes the top 10 occupations by average taxable income.

Four of the top 10 earning jobs are medical professions, with two in engineering and two in finance.

But to get a little more specific, you can rely on reports produced by job advertising sites such as Seek or Indeed, both of which have a searchable database that provides the average advertised rate for occupations listed on their websites.

These resources give you helpful data to support an argument if you discover that you’re receiving less than what the rest of the market is providing for your job or occupation.

workers wage theft

Wages, and what you might be owed, can be researched via the ABS.  Photo: Getty

And if you’re on the big bucks

Before you go marching off to the boss demanding an immediate pay rise, it’s helpful to understand the full context, such as whether you’re already among those earners at the top of the income statistics table.

In their most recent report, the ABS tells us that 90 per cent of all employees earn less than $2720 per week.

This means that if you receive an annual income of $141,440 or better, you’re already earning more than 90 per cent of the working population, according to the ABS.

You shouldn’t necessarily let that hold you back, but it helps to check in with the right information, so you don’t get caught off guard.

What to do about it?

Negotiating with your employer can be a daunting task at the best of times, but there are some ways to stay mindful and not allow your emotions to get the better of you.

First, have a clear idea about where you would like the negotiation to end up before you even begin.

Don’t just head in without any reliable information and make unspecified demands. You need to decide what a good outcome would be before you even start the discussion and have some facts to support it.

Second, manage your expectations.

It is rare for an employer to jump at the opportunity to pay someone more for the same role, so don’t be surprised if your approach is met with some initial resistance or trepidation.

Be prepared to be politely persistent, but not relentless.

If it becomes clear that your request is not going anywhere, it might be time to start thinking about other ways to realise your value, such as looking for a job elsewhere.

Third, and I think most importantly, try not to take things too personally.

Stay rational

Arm yourself with rational arguments and reliable data to support your claim so you can speak to your request with as much objectivity as you can muster.

A plea to someone’s conscience will only work once in a blue moon, so market-based information will be much more persuasive.

Finally, remember that a negotiation shouldn’t be a reason to spoil a good working relationship.

If you and your boss can’t agree on what your time and effort is worth, rather than taking offence it might be just the catalyst you need to change some things in your life.

One thing is for sure, getting bitter about it will hurt you more than it hurts anyone else.

So, if the data tells you you’re worth more and you can’t get it where you are, it might be time to vote with your feet and pursue a new opportunity.

Surely your boss can’t hold it against you too much. After all; that’s the free market, baby.

Scott Riches is a former union official with the Electrical Trades Union Victorian branch, and a practising employment lawyer. He is also a volunteer in the employment clinic at the Fitzroy Legal Service.

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