‘Minor’ penalty rates cut slammed

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Penalty rates have been a hot topic in Parliament this week, with several politicians slamming the Fair Work Commission’s decision

It is a decision that will see Sunday penalty rates halved for permanent community pharmacy employees.

Yesterday Labor member for Moreton Graham Perrett asked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull whether he felt that the cuts to take-home pay will truly be “minor” for workers in affected industries.

“Given the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that he supports the decision to cut penalty rates, can the Prime Minister confirm that his colleague the Liberal member for Forde was reflecting government policy when he said in relation to the decision to cut penalty rates, ‘The reductions are minor’? For this Prime Minister, is a $77 a week pay cut just a minor reduction?” Mr Perrett asked.

Mr Turnbull would not be drawn as to whether the cuts were “minor,” but replied that the penalty rates decision was made by the FWC alone.

“Right through the election, we were accused of wanting to undermine the Fair Work Commission—utterly false— but we said we would support the independent umpire because they have done the work.

“For example, the public holiday rate under the Registered and Licensed Clubs Award 2010 has been left at 250% by the Fair Work Commission. Under the Pharmacy Industry Award, the rate on public holidays for full-time workers has been reduced from 250 to 225%.

“Now, that is a decision by the Fair Work Commission. It is not a decision that the government has made.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten attacked the decision earlier this week, introducing a bill to amend the Fair Work Act.

“Today I am offering the Prime Minister the chance to work with us to work with us to protect penalty rates and the take-home pay of hard-working Australians,” he said on Monday.

“This is a test for the Prime Minister and the government: cooperate with Labor to protect the conditions of ordinary people or vote to cut their pay,” he said.

“The government can stand up for hardworking Australians or it can choose to attack us. I have a feeling about what this government will do: they will attack us rather than deal with the substantive issues. Let’s be clear: a decision to not act, a decision to not remedy this decision of the Fair Work Commission, is a decision to support it.

“Up to 700,000 Australians in retail, hospitality, pharmacy and fast food will cop a pay cut. Ironically, the only circumstances in which they will not cop a pay cut is if they are covered by a union agreement for the time being.”

The FWC decision was criticised by several Labor politicians this week.

Susan Templeman, ALP member for Macquarie: “The decision to cut penalty rates for hospitality, retail, fast-food and pharmacy workers is a horrible blow to the 700,000 low-paid workers who rely on them. It comes at a time when we have the lowest wage growth in 20 years and the greatest inequality. What the decision says is that, if you are a low-income retail worker, your Sundays are no longer important to you, your family or your friends. You do not count, but everybody else either does not work on a Sunday or gets full penalty rates.”

Luke Gosling, ALP member for Solomon: “The recent decision by the Fair Work Commission to cut penalty rates in retail, fast food, hospitality and pharmacy awards will have a devastating impact on low-paid workers. We should be backing low-paid workers, not taking money off them.”

Tim Hammond, ALP member for Perth: “How out of touch is this government, with the Prime Minister saying that these cuts are modest. Try telling that to the mums and dads carefully planning a budget around their penalty rates.”

Mr Hammond also singled out West Australian premier Colin Barnett for calling penalty rates “unfair” and saying he expected a backlash from unions.

“Western Australians should vote that state government out,” Mr Hammond says.

An AJP poll found that 32% have decided to “leave the profession” as a result of the penalty rates cuts.

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