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Caution urged on penalty rate cut rollout

Piggy bank, savings, money, hammerEmployers say it’s essential businesses are not overly burdened by the rollout of the Fair Work Commission’s decision on penalty rates.

The commission has handed down a decision to cut penalty rates for retail, hospitality and pharmacy workers on modern awards but has yet to decide on how to implement it.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, under fire from Labor for not opposing the cuts outright, says the transition to the new rates should be done in “a way that ensures that take-home pay is as far as possible maintained”.

He says the government will make a submission to the FWC on technical issues.

Liberal senator and former workplace minister Eric Abetz says the pay rates of existing workers should be protected while the new rates apply only to new employees.

Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox says employers would oppose the idea of “red circling” pay rates of existing employees and the resurrection of take-home pay orders.

Willox said it would be too complicated for businesses to have different employees on different terms and conditions.

On the final day of parliament for the week, Labor leader Bill Shorten unsuccessfully sought to bring in and pass a bill to protect penalty rates.

Shorten says the government can’t wash its hands of the FWC’s decision.

“When you become prime minister, your job is not to find somewhere to hide to avoid making a decision,” the opposition leader said.

Labor and the coalition are at odds over how many workers will be impacted.

While the opposition claims up to 700,000 will be affected, the government says it is as few as 285,000.

The Fair Work Commission says it does not know how many people are affected.

The coalition is hitting out at a Labor campaign over penalty rates as new polling shows voters in some of the country’s most marginal seats want the government to protect them.

The political fallout from the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce Sunday rates to those of Saturday in the hospitality, retail and fast food sectors has dominated the parliamentary week.

ReachTEL polling, conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, shows more than 62 per cent of Australians disapprove of the decision and 65 per cent want the government to pass legislation to protect penalty rates.

The survey of more than 3500 residents included the electorates of Corangamite, Dawson, Page, and Leichhardt.

“These poll results show politicians must act on behalf of the majority of voters and put new laws in place to protect take home pay of the lowest paid workers,” ACTU president Ged Kearney said on Friday.

The government has been trying to paint the decision as pro-jobs, insisting businesses will hire more workers once their wages bills decrease.

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne rejected criticism of the government’s response and accused Labor of using the issue to distract from issues like high electricity prices.

He insisted the commission recommends the change to Sunday rates be phased in over two years.

“As the minimum wage rises for those workers, that would cover any losses they might have because of the changes to penalty rates,” he told the Nine Network.

Labor isn’t giving up its fight to protect worker’s take-home pay, despite Bill Shorten unsuccessfully seeking to bring in and pass a bill to protect penalty rates on Thursday.

“This is about a pay cut for some of Australia’s lowest income earners,” frontbencher Anthony Albanese said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott offered his government some advice on how to respond to the opposition’s attacks.

“Against Labor’s pitch of ‘high wages’ versus ‘low wages’, we need to pitch ‘high wages’ versus ‘no wages’,” he told The Australian.

“The issue is not higher wages versus lower wages. It’s about making it possible for more businesses to stay open because if the business is shut no one gets paid anything.”

Liberal senator and former workplace minister Eric Abetz believes the pay rates of existing workers should be protected while the new rates apply only to new employees.

The opposition claims up to 700,000 will be affected by the decision, but the government says it is as few as 285,000.

The Fair Work Commission says it does not know how many people will be affected.

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