The Fair Work Commission has announced that, starting in July, Sunday penalty rates for hospitality, retail and fast food workers will be reduced. Polling by the United Voice union for hospitality workers found voters in Gilmore, a Liberal marginal seat, strongly opposed to cutting weekend penalty rates. Jo-anne Schofield, National Secretary of United Voice, the hospitality union, says “The consequences will be dire for many of Australia’s 800,000 hospitality workers if the Fair Work Commission rules against them in this case.
“Hospitality workers will lose as much as 30% of their incomes if employers get their way.
“That’s an appalling prospect for people who already earn half the national average wage of $1,516 per week and who spend most of their incomes on the necessities of life for themselves and their families. A reality check for the South Coast. The South Coast has one of the highest unemployment figures in NSW at 6.7% and if you then look at youth unemployment in Gilmore it is 18%. There is a convenient alternate truth within those figures which is that the South East has very high underemployment where people might have several jobs, enough to not register as being unemployed, however the combined weekly hours fall below 35 hours per week. These are your weekend workers. They do not choose to work because of the bonus penalty rates. They choose to work weekends to get by. We are a tourism destination. Our industry is hospitality and retail. While the waiving of Sunday penalty rates extends to retail outlets and pharmacies as well we don’t have a large base of shops wanting to open on a Sunday. For those who do work in retail they are about to be hammered with cuts from 200% to 150% for full-time/part time and 200% to 175% for casuals. Fast food outlets will see a cut from 150% to 125% Full-time/part time hospitality workers will see a reduction from 175% to 150% with no change for casuals. A full time or part time employee on $27.50 per hour working a six hour Sunday in retail will lose $82.50 for the day - a casual will remain the same. In Hospitality they will lose $41.25 What we do have in the Eurobodalla is very seasonal employment supported by influx of tourists/weekend visitors from Canberra. They want to shop and they want to eat out. It might be fine for the local media to seek the opinion of local cafes that are presently not open on Sundays and ask if they would consider trading with reduced wages – they have nothing to lose by saying they might consider it. Nor do those not currently working Sundays seem to care to much at the opportunity to get more hours however if you ask someone who currently works on a Sunday if they are happy to work the same hours and take less home it might be a different answer all together. Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro reacted strongly to the announcement. “Yesterday’s decision to cut penalty rates for hospitality, retail and fast food workers is a devastating blow for the workers who rely on penalty rates in Eden-Monaro.”
“A lot of jobs in our community are in the seasonal tourism and service industries. These are our lowest paid workers and they will be hurt by the decision to cut penalty rates paid for weekend and public holiday work.”
“Many people in Eden Monaro only have two to three days a week employment and depend on penalty rates to get by. In addition the penalty rates are typically applied to very small base wages to start with.”
“Cuts to penalty rates means these workers will struggle putting food on the table, paying the rent, mortgage and bills. It also means that there will be less money in the economy to support the very businesses where the cuts are taking effect. There will be less money being spent on coffee, pizzas or other retail items.”
“At a time when wages growth is at historic lows and underemployment is at record highs, there could not be a worse time to cut the take home pay of workers.”
“I’m incredibly disappointed with the impact the decision will have on workers in Eden-Monaro, but there can be no mistake that Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition Government have been pushing for penalty rates to be cut from the day they came into office,” Dr Kelly said.
“Only Labor made a submission to the Fair Work Commission in support of penalty rates and workers. Malcolm Turnbull was silent on protecting workers pay but is happy to give big business a tax cut. It shows how out of touch he is with the reality of middle and working class families.”
“Workers in Eden-Monaro can be assured that Labor will be fighting to ensure modern awards are a safety net that workers can rely on.”
And what of these savings being made by offering staff less per hour. Will they be passed on to the patron via adjusted menu charges. There is no proviso to do so. The argument presented is that business will have more money to invest back into the capita of the business or in employing more staff. Instead of two wait staff there might be three, or someone else at the dishwasher, or two baristas at the coffee machine. Sadly for Regional NSW the big winners of this are the big retailers pushing the politics for metropolitan changes to improve their bottom line. The hospitality industry on the South Coast is a primary employer of our youth. We are already seeing an exodus of our youth from the Shire as soon as they can leave home to seek higher education or better employment prospects. There is no entry level industry for them other than hospitality which, in the main, is seasonal. Add to the mix that it is the youth, at cheaper hourly rates, who are more attractive to business owners than their more expensive adult counterparts. Reduced hourly rates for adults with families, rents, bills is not socially acceptable when no one appears to be benefitting other than the business owner who will pocket the difference. In order to provide the level of service expected by our visitors the front of house of any café or restaurant needs to be run professionally and capably. If we lose adults from this service because they cannot afford the pay cuts then we end up with cafes run by children who neither understand the industry nor care for the detail required. Without adult supervision there goes reputation and there goes the only thing we have to offer on a Sunday – hospitality. While we look at the influx of visitors and their injection of seasonal money of major concern is the fact that with reduced incomes our local weekend workers will also have a reduced disposable income. It is that disposable income that then dominoes to sustaining the delivery of goods and services that they require bringing about a downturn in the local economy. If we introduce the idea of opening our shops up for Sunday trade it will primarily be the larger shops that will open their doors taking advantage of cheaper hourly rates. Those already open on Sundays will benefit with reduced wages. Who are these companies and where are these profits gleened by reducing wages going? Possibly not back into our community. The McKell Institute Economic Impact of Penalty Rate Cuts on Rural NSW discussion paper states clearly: “The Economic Impact of Penalty Rate Cuts on Rural NSW Under a partial abolition of penalty rates, it is estimated that retail workers in Rural NSW would lose $89 million each year which is equivalent to an average pay cut per retail worker of 4.6%. More worrying for the towns is the $26 million in disposable income would be lost across Rural NSW.”
Note: The author is neither Green, Labor, Liberal or Jain. The above are the opinions of someone concerned that rules passed down from high might be deemed of benefit to Metropolitan areas and may in fact be deleterious to Regional and Rural communities such as ours.