Easter puts penalty rates back in the spotlight

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten put holiday penalty rates back in the conversation over the Easter long weekend, a period when many retailers paid lesser rates than in years past.

Shorten reaffirmed Labor’s position to restore penalty rates within the first 100 days of being elected Prime Minister in the May 18 federal election, which would overturn a 2017 Fair Work Commission decision to gradually lower the penalty rate for such workers across weekends, public holidays and early or late shifts by 2020.

“Do we really want to go down the American path of workplace relations where a worker… to make ends meet has to rely on tips and charity and the coins and dollar notes left on the table after the guest has gone?” Shorten asked a crowd in St Kilda, Melbourne.

“That is not the Australian way.”

Similar calls by Shorten last year were decried by National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb last year as “a desperate political stunt”, pointing to the decision by the FWC as having been the end result of a two-year consultation with the retail sector.

“After receiving evidence from 143 witnesses and almost 6000 submissions, the FWC came to a very sensible compromise regarding Sunday penalty rates that reflected the current economic in retail,” Lamb said.

But Labor wasn’t the only reason penalty rates were in the news over the long weekend. The scrutiny topic was back in the spotlight due to the fact many service providers held onto the 10 to 15 per cent holiday surcharge, despite paying lower penalty rates to staff.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Chamber for Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said surcharges would not be eliminated unless penalty rates were cut completely, since it still costs businesses more to open on select days.

“We are only half way through [the planned reduction] and penalty rates are still significantly higher on public holidays than on other days of the week,” Pearson said.

“So at the end of that there will still be [a] surcharge because people are still being paid penalty rates which are much higher than what they are paid other times of the week.”

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