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What we can do in the wake of the Fair Work Penalty Rates Decision?

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 2 March 2017 16

Penalty rates

There has been a great deal of media and political commentary on Fair Work Australia’s decision last week to alter penalty rates for workers in industries including retail, hospitality, fast food, restaurants and pharmacy. Reports suggest that more than 26,000 workers will be hit by the reduction in penalty rates in the ACT alone, with many losing between $75 to $100 in their weekly pay. These are some of our lowest paid workers, and are more likely to be women, younger and casual workers.

Supporters of the decision say that Sunday no longer holds a special place in our culture as a day of rest, this is a small reduction in the take home pay for workers, the cuts won’t come into force immediately and the decision is likely to result in higher rates of employment as more business choose to open on a Sunday. Those who argue against the move point to the fact that a relatively small reduction in pay makes a real different to a low weekly wage and means that people will need to work more hours (often difficult due to caring responsibilities, study or other commitments) or become entrenched as one of the growing number of working poor.

Australia has always prided itself on having a safety net to support people who are doing it tough. In recent times however, we have seen a pattern developing where there is an erosion of this safety net for those who are either unable to work, or working in low paid industries. Recent weeks have seen an attack on people receiving income support through the robo-debt debacle which has wrongly targeted a large number of people, and now we see moves to erode the incomes of some of our lowest workers. A real fear by many is that this approach will spread to other low paid industries such as the health care and community services industry who provide services to some of our most vulnerable community members.

The good news is that the Fair Work decision sets a minimum safety net. It doesn’t force employers to implement it, and it is still within their power to pay their workers fair and just wages that compensates them for working outside standard business hours. As consumers and citizens we benefit from the convenience of being able to access shops and hospitality on the weekends, and we can play our part in creating a community where we show proper value to those who work on the weekends and enhance our leisure and lives. My response to this decision is that I will seek out businesses that choose to pay their staff a decent wage that reflects their weekend work. I will never again grumble about paying a Sunday or Public Holiday surcharge if I know it is going towards just employees wages. I think this action can make a difference, what do you think? Are you worried about this decision? Will it impact on your habits when doing business on the weekend?

What’s Your opinion?


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16 Responses to
What we can do in the wake of the Fair Work Penalty Rates Decision?
1
Rachel Ziv 10:48 am
02 Mar 17
#

I completely agree, and I think one of the benefits of living in Canberra is that most workers are spoiled for choice. You only need to walk through a shopping centre to see the number of retail stores who need staff. Those who pay above award wage and offer better conditions will attract the best staff – and more than make up for the extra they pay them by reducing staff turnover.

2
bd84 11:46 am
02 Mar 17
#

It’s just another political issue that people jump up and down crying about and will be forgotten about when it just becomes the norm. This is the typical response when making a tough change to archaic laws or practices.

Firstly, a penalty rate isn’t part of anyone’s wage it’s an optional extra. The hourly base rate is your value to the company for your role. Most wage rates (and allowances) are not set on the basis of helping any particular individual pay for their lifestyle. You wouldn’t expect someone with 4 kids or drive a Ferrari to be paid more than someone with 2 kids or drive a Falcon?

If you’re reliant on an allowance to make ends meet, you have major problems and may need to get advice to help live within your means.

People are kidding themselves if they think Saturday and Sunday are sacred days which people stay at home with the family or go to church, which was what the penalties were based on. Yes some industries work on the traditional Saturday and Sunday weekend, it doesn’t mean that the staff necessarily have their own ‘weekend’ on other days of the week.

Wonder why you need to stand in line in the supermarket longer on Sundays? The manager cuts hours and wages every week firstly from the weekend, then from nights purely because they’re paying higher wages. The 7 hour shift staff work on other days are 3 hour shifts on Sundays. It’s also more likely to be worked by the 15 yr old who will spend the money on video games, not the mother/father with kids to support.

Then there’s the stores that close early or aren’t open, or you’re paying a nice hefty surcharge. Penalty rates are the main cause, they don’t make your coffee twice as good on those days..

What to do now? Get on with your life and keep working hard.

3
chewy14 11:49 am
02 Mar 17
#

I’m happy as always to pay market rates for services I value. Something which penalty rates have restricted in the past by setting arbitrary rates on Sunday for no discernablly good reason.

It doen’t really make sense that weekday workers should be getting paid less than weekend workers doing the same thing if weekend work suits some people’s lifestyles. If weekends are truly valued higher by individuals, employers will have to payer their staff higher rates to work those hours regardless of the decision.

4
Maya123 12:24 pm
02 Mar 17
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With all the complaints about Sunday penalty rates being reduced I see a double standard here. It’s okay for the complainers that those working any of the days Monday to Friday don’t get penalty rates, but it’s wrong that those who work Sundays have got a reduction. Warped attitude here. If anyone really cared about these low paid workers and fairness they would be lobbying for the same hourly rate for whatever day they worked, but a pay rise for all the workers. But no they would rather just complain about the injustice of Sunday workers getting paid less than they were (but still more than Mon to Fri workers), and ignore the workers who work other days.
Times have changed. These days Sundays don’t mean what they did once. All workers should be equal.

5
Rollersk8r 12:29 pm
02 Mar 17
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Hmm I think this is too simplistic a view.

We tend to think the small café, restaurant or bar provides a wholesome human “service” that is worth additional payment at certain times. However we take for granted that petrol stations, McDonalds (and other food franchises), supermarkets, K-Mart etc are available virtually 24/7 – and the prices don’t change based on when you shop.

You might be happy tipping your barista and paying double on Sundays at your local café, for example, but I would bet people don’t view a person doing the same job at McDonalds or Starbucks in the same way…

6
Holden Caulfield 2:27 pm
02 Mar 17
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“These are some of our lowest paid workers, and are more likely to be women, younger and casual workers.”

Can we have a meaningful debate on the topic without getting all emotional and pulling at people’s heart strings please? Moreover, as other commenters have noted, why can’t we treat all workers equally, regardless of sex? The inference here is that the welfare of a low paid male worker is worth less than a female worker. Tanya Plibersek, also, please take note (ref: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/tanya-plibersek/women-will-suffer-most-from-the-penalty-rate-cuts/)

I’m left leaning and have a tendency to want to align with the best thoughts of the worker, but many businesses employing these workers are on the edge financially simply because hospitality is a bloody tough business. What good is having an over inflated sense of worth for Saturday/Sunday if it contributes to a business’ ability to operate and remain viable? Yes, I know that is a different debate, but the two topics are connected, clearly.

Added to that, there are countless numbers of hospo jobs around Canberra and the poor sodden teenager we’re bleating for may also be the same one who just can’t be bothered turning up to work today because they have a concert to go to. And they know they can find another job when they can be bothered.

There’s always two sides to a debate and with this one I am surprised at how much traction one side seems to be getting compared with the other.

7
HiddenDragon 5:09 pm
02 Mar 17
#

I have sympathy for people who genuinely will find it hard to manage due to reduced Sunday penalty payments, but not just those affected by the recent Fair Work decision – there are also those whose weekend penalties have been reduced in earlier deals between employers and unions. The “trade off” in those deals may have been a higher standard hourly rate – which would benefit all workers covered by such deals, including those who actually do little or no weekend work.

8
Garfield 5:42 pm
02 Mar 17
#

People need to stop conflating penalty rates and welfare. Penalty rates are supposed to compensate people for working outside normal times and/or longer than normal hours and are quite frankly designed to encourage businesses not to operate at certain times – thus the term “Penalty Rate”. Welfare is supposed to provide a safety net to ensure a basic standard of living for those who can’t provide for themselves. The argument that Sunday penalty rates can’t be cut because it will reduce pay to low paid workers is an illogical/emotional attempt to link two separate issues.

The big question faced by the Commission was whether there was still a justification for higher penalties on Sundays than on Saturdays. The original justification for higher rates on Sundays compared to Saturdays had to be religious, but church attendance is at all time lows and so that difference between the two weekend days should no longer apply. I’d argue that it is now normal, and has been for years, for many businesses to operate on weekends and so the penalties for both days should be reduced further. I’ve said previously that higher rates of pay for late night work should still apply as working those sort of hours comes with adverse health results, and if a person works more than the standard 38 hour week they should be paid at a higher rate for the additional hours or get an equivalent amount of time off in lieu.

There’s also a lot of hypocrisy from Labor & the Unions on this issue when they’ve negotiated agreements with big employers to reduce or even scrap weekend penalty rates in exchange for increases in the base wage, but these agreements are still reducing the total wages bill of the employers. For example the agreement with McDonalds in 2013 was estimated to have ripped $50m p,a, from workers pockets, all coming from the wages of low income earners working weekend shifts. Many people are quick to criticise small business owners for trying to make a profit and telling them to close their business if they cant, but in the face of those sort of deals they were getting screwed in trying to compete. The difference is in future they won’t be getting screwed quite as much.

9
Vix 8:03 pm
02 Mar 17
#

whilst not entering the debate between whether penalty rates should be cut or weekday rates increased, it has always seemed unfair to me that the teenager who worked Thursday nights and Saturday mornings made almost as much as the average worker who worked longer hours on Monday to Friday…

10
BlowMeDown 10:10 pm
02 Mar 17
#

The arguments in favour of penalty rates sound completely inconsistent to me.

By all means argue for higher minimum wages but how can.anyone argue that penalty rates compensate for giving up Sunday when there’s a preference for Sundays and the extra money?

11
pink little birdie 10:08 am
03 Mar 17
#

I’d like to point out that the proportion of workers who work weekends/outside business hours has not actually changed in the last 40 years despite the increase of opening hours.
I also take the view that the penalty rates have been around long enough that either you survived the transition to pay penalty rates and succeeded or your business is under 30 years and it should have been planned for.

Generally speaking a 15 year old working weekends or evenings will still be earning less than the adult minimum wage regardless of penalties because of the age based awards.

There is also a lack of discussion, particularly in Canberra where university students are a large part of the part time and weekend workforce, that working more than 15 hours a week starts to have a negative impact on grades. Canberra in particular has a lot of rural students and Youth allowance is too low for even a basic standard of living so they need to work.

And finally if people are using the lack of religiousness as an argument for lowering Sunday penalty rates can we stop using religion to base any laws on?

12
wildturkeycanoe 2:33 pm
03 Mar 17
#

The industry I worked in was a Monday to Friday job. When you were asked to work overtime, be it after hours or Saturday/Sunday, you were compensated for having to sacrifice your own free time to do extra work. I do not consider that someone who only works Saturday or Sunday and only works 10 to 20 hours a week deserves one and a half or double time, because they haven’t done a full week of work to deserve the bonus of sacrificing their free time. They are still only doing half a week of work compared to ordinary 9-5 employees. Just because it is a weekend, does not on its own mean you are entitled to compensation because you haven’t done any hard yards yet.
I had a very unfortunate situation happen to me once. I’d started work on a Monday and done the normal 8 hour day. I had been asked to work night shift that night as they needed more help on that particular job. Now everyone else had been doing this regular night shift work for a few weeks so they were used to the hours and were getting single time with a loading for the shift. I went to bed in the afternoon after knocking off at 3:30PM, to rock up to the shift job. We did this night job for the rest of the week and the following Tuesday I checked my pay packet. I had only been paid a normal week’s wages plus 20% for the shift. I inquired about why I hadn’t got double time for the first night shift as I’d not had the mandatory 8 hour break from the previous day work. Because it was a different project manager running this job, he simply told me he didn’t care about what I’d done that day and that the shift allowance would apply only. Id done over my 40 hours for the week, the extra hours normally would have been at x1.5 or x2, but I only got 20% shift loading instead. Needless to say I didn’t show up for that project the following week, not just out of protest but because the lack of sleep and time to adjust to the shift-work made me sick anyway.
Now I might not be taking about the same thing. Are overtime rates and penalty rates considered as the same thing? There was a rule that if you’d not done your 40 hours normal time in the week, you weren’t allowed to do overtime on Saturday or Sunday because technically you weren’t doing overtime, just filling in the hours you haven’t done. The basis for calculating penalty rates for casual and part time employment is outside this scope because the employees don’t do that prerequisite working week to get the bonus in their pay packet. Why get double time for Sunday if it is the only day you work in the week? Doesn’t make sense. Give it to someone who has done 40 hours already and needs the extra money.

13
pink little birdie 5:24 pm
03 Mar 17
#

wildturkeycanoe said :

The industry I worked in was a Monday to Friday job. When you were asked to work overtime, be it after hours or Saturday/Sunday, you were compensated for having to sacrifice your own free time to do extra work. I do not consider that someone who only works Saturday or Sunday and only works 10 to 20 hours a week deserves one and a half or double time, because they haven’t done a full week of work to deserve the bonus of sacrificing their free time. They are still only doing half a week of work compared to ordinary 9-5 employees. Just because it is a weekend, does not on its own mean you are entitled to compensation because you haven’t done any hard yards yet.
I had a very unfortunate situation happen to me once. I’d started work on a Monday and done the normal 8 hour day. I had been asked to work night shift that night as they needed more help on that particular job. Now everyone else had been doing this regular night shift work for a few weeks so they were used to the hours and were getting single time with a loading for the shift. I went to bed in the afternoon after knocking off at 3:30PM, to rock up to the shift job. We did this night job for the rest of the week and the following Tuesday I checked my pay packet. I had only been paid a normal week’s wages plus 20% for the shift. I inquired about why I hadn’t got double time for the first night shift as I’d not had the mandatory 8 hour break from the previous day work. Because it was a different project manager running this job, he simply told me he didn’t care about what I’d done that day and that the shift allowance would apply only. Id done over my 40 hours for the week, the extra hours normally would have been at x1.5 or x2, but I only got 20% shift loading instead. Needless to say I didn’t show up for that project the following week, not just out of protest but because the lack of sleep and time to adjust to the shift-work made me sick anyway.
Now I might not be taking about the same thing. Are overtime rates and penalty rates considered as the same thing? There was a rule that if you’d not done your 40 hours normal time in the week, you weren’t allowed to do overtime on Saturday or Sunday because technically you weren’t doing overtime, just filling in the hours you haven’t done. The basis for calculating penalty rates for casual and part time employment is outside this scope because the employees don’t do that prerequisite working week to get the bonus in their pay packet. Why get double time for Sunday if it is the only day you work in the week? Doesn’t make sense. Give it to someone who has done 40 hours already and needs the extra money.

A job that is mainly Monday to Friday and paying over time for project is majorly different to businesses that are weekend businesses.

In the case of students, particularly ones that are doing subjects with full time placements (teaching, nursing, medical schools), they are doing a full time load at university and working part time to fund their full time studies. For those on unpaid placements (2-8 weeks) they often loose their part time shifts they can do during the week and still need to work on the weekends at part time jobs to pay for essential living costs. This makes that even harder.
What if you work 2 part time jobs that get you to full time hours and pickup an extra shift at one. Which one should pay the additional hours if you work over the 40 hours- you haven’t gone over the 40 hours at one job but have in total?
It’s not as black and white as the 40 hours a week at a particular job and then you get penalties.
It would also lead to the abhorrent practice where hours are artificially limited to avoid paying penalties like some companies in the USA where hours are artificially limited to avoid paying benefits.

Your experience does not reflect the world for people who are working in retail and hospitality in particular.

14
Masquara 10:36 pm
03 Mar 17
#

I hate paying a surcharge on Sundays at various cafes. Happy to see penalty rates paid for people doing actual overtime, on top of a day or a week’s work, but I don’t think uni students and other casual workers should be paid double.

15
Just about enough 1:53 am
04 Mar 17
#

bd84 “If you’re reliant on an allowance to make ends meet, you have major problems and may need to get advice to help live within your means.”
When I went back into the workforce and after my ex deserted me and the kids, I did depend on those penalty rates to survive. Now I can see from your comment you are rather arrogant when it comes to your earning power over those who earn less than you but there are many people who are starting out after disastrous circumstances (no fault of their own) and these penalty rates are important. They are at least not sponging off centrelink and I think you may have not thought of this point so will give you the benefit of the doubt here.
I feel for anyone who has to lose this money if in terrible circumstances, who want to work and not live off welfare. I admire them for doing so and can only wish them the best after this blow.
Maybe this move should have been thought out more by those who care instead of ignoring the fact that these hard working people are at least giving it a damn good go instead of bludging off the system…

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