The war on penalty rates continues to gain momentum in the wake of the productivity commission’s draft report which made recommendations that the Australian Government should amend the National Employment Standards. The report recommended that Sunday penalty rates for non-essential services should be aligned with Saturday rates.
Under the current retail award Saturday attracts 25 per cent plus 10 per cent for casuals whilst Sunday attracts 100 per cent and public holidays attract 150 per cent.
The recent 7-Eleven scandal, which involved underpaying workers, has shed light on the pressures employers are under when it comes to maintaining profitability on weekends and public holidays. We can only wonder how many other employers throughout Australia are attempting to avoid the existing award rates to keep their doors open on holidays and weekends.
Adding more fuel to the fire, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia have placed their support behind reducing penalty rates. Many of us would argue that pharmacies are seen as an essential service, which under the productivity commission’s report would allow pharmacy workers to maintain their existing penalty rates. Many parents would be all too familiar with making a midnight run to the 24 hour chemist to purchase medicine for their sick children.
Pharmacy owners would no doubt argue that the reduction of penalty rates would allow them to be open later and more often due to the lower wage costs. Whilst existing pharmacy workers would be horrified at the thought of losing their penalty rates, no doubt there would be a long line of willing replacements ready to accept a lower rate of pay just to gain employment.
Unfortunately it is the employee that is under pressure here. Many of us cannot afford to lose our penalty rates but even worse most of us definitely cannot afford to lose our jobs. Excuse my cynicism but, when given the opportunity it is likely that business owners will take more than they give.
Penalty rates are awarded because the people working during those times make a significant sacrifice, missing out on the regular weekend, public holiday and night time activities. However, one could question why Sunday rates are more than Saturday rates and why public holiday rates are more than Sunday (or Saturday) rates.
With the removal of penalty rates debate gaining momentum it seems unlikely that workers will retain their existing rates of pay. We suspect that Sunday rates and public holiday rates are the most likely to be affected….only time will tell.