A question of pay

Canberra Parliament House

Pharmacy penalty rates under discussion by federal MPs

Pharmacy penalty rates were on the parliamentary agenda recently, with the contentious issue being raised during a number of post-Budget speeches.

During recent debates over the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 in the House of Representatives, a number of Labor MPs mentioned the issue of penalty rates, and specifically pharmacy penalty rates.

The ALP has suggested a couple of amendments to the bill, including calling on the government to “abandon its support of the Fair Work Commission decision to cut penalty rates because it will mean nearly 700,000 Australians will have their take home pay cut by up to $77 a week”.

It also wanted legislation to stop the Fair Work Commission decision from taking effect.

Speaking in the House of Representatives last week, Julian Hill (ALP, Bruce, Vic) said the current bill was a “typically weak response from an out-of-touch government.”

“The other group of vulnerable workers that the government does not care about but could use this bill to look after is people on penalty rates,” he said.

“We have heard about the impacts on people who are on fast food, hospitality, retail and pharmacy awards from general cuts. They are the lowest paid workers in the country”. 

The party had received advice that the general cuts would have flow-on effects into other awards, he added.

Fellow ALP MP Justine Keay (Braddon, Tas) highlighted the impact of the penalty rate cuts on women in particular.

“The government’s support for cutting penalty rates will disproportionately affect women,” she said. 

“Women dominate the sectors that will have wages cut: hospitality, retail, fast food and pharmacy.”

“If the Prime Minister is so keen on supporting women and talks about women in a way that suggests he actually values women as participants in the work force, why is he not saying that we should not support this wage cut?”

Tabling the amendments, Opposition Whip Graham Perrett said Labor would support the government’s legislation “but have serious concerns about its efficacy”.

The government developed the bill in response to cases such as the recent revelations of systematic exploitation of foreign workers by 7-Eleven franchisees.

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