Penalty rates decision praised and scorned

THE STATE’S peak business organisation, the NSW Business Chamber, believes the decision of the full bench of the Fair Work Commission in its four yearly review of modern awards is the first step in addressing a major issue in workplace relations and politicians looking for short term political gain to prevent its intention should be called out by the electorate.

“When you read the 550-page decision and consider that the commission sat through 39 days of testimony from more than 143 lay witnesses and experts, it’s pretty clear the outcomes and their intentions were well considered,” NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said.

“On the whole what we wanted to see in key services sectors was achieved; especially in retail and hospitality. Generally Sunday penalty rates have been reduced from 200% to 175% or 150%. Public holiday rates have been generally reduced from 250% to 225%.

“The commission accepted large parts of the employer argument about the role of Sunday in our modern society and the need to increase employment opportunities on Sunday and public holidays. So the umpire has clearly spoken.

“I think the community will be watching the response from their political leaders very closely. Unlike the commission, they haven’t sat through the evidence presented, yet no doubt will be making all sorts of threats to introduce legislation making this decision irrelevant.

“The adjustment in penalty rates for Sundays means your favourite local businesses are able to remain open. Remember when these venues are closed, casual staff not only don’t receive a penalty loading, they don’t receive any wage.”

The chamber’s advocate, Nigel Ward, who ran the case on behalf of the business community, said he hoped the decision meant businesses can get on with their operations.

“Businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors face a number of unique challenges, especially in regional Australia, and these were presented to the commission throughout the many hours of hearings,” Mr Ward said.

Kick in the guts

THE ST VINCENT de Paul Society is deeply saddened by yesterday’s Fair Work Commission decision to undermine Sunday and public holiday penalty rates.

“This is an attack on people who already struggle to survive and for whom penalty rates make an important difference from week to week,” the society’s National Council CEO, Dr John Falzon, said.

“Cutting penalty rates will not create jobs but it will build inequality.

“This cut will disproportionately affect women, young people and people who already carry the burden of inequality. The rights of workers should take priority over the maximisation of profits.

“There’s nothing innovative about increasing the numbers of the working poor in prosperous Australia. And this is happening in the context of the government’s systematic assault on the social security safety net.

“This decision will result in more people needing to seek assistance from charities. The answer, however, is not charity. It is justice.

“We cannot build a strong and fair economy on the misguided premise that people should need to turn to charity to top up their inadequate incomes.”

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