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?