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Published: Fri, February 24, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Fair Work commission rules on penalty rates


The Fair Work Commission decision to cut Sunday penalty rates will hit Australia's lowest paid the hardest, according to unions.

"Society and work patterns have changed significantly in 50 years", he said.

"It's a great opportunity for all businesses to be looking at what they're paying their staff and ensure they are paying their staff the correct rates, we would expect our members to look at opportunities to provide their current staff with more shifts or expand their operations in some way to give their employees greater opportunity".

The commission reviewed Saturday rates but decided against any reductions.

Hospitality workers will see their penalty wage cut from 175 per cent to 150 per cent, while in retail, full and part-time wages will be reduced from double the standard rate to 150 per cent, and casual Sunday wages will be cut from double to 175 per cent.

Sunday penalty rates for full-time and part-time employees covered by the Hospitality Award will drop from 175% to "time and a half" (150%); however, Sunday penalty rates for causals in the hospitality sector will remain unchanged.

"When you read the 550-page decision and consider that the commission sat through 39 days of testimony from more than 143 lay witnesses and experts, it's pretty clear the outcomes and their intentions were well considered", NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said. Sunday rates for level two and three employees on the same award will not change.

But perhaps the clearest evidence that penalty rates cost jobs are the series of enterprise agreements negotiated between the SDA and supermarkets and fast food chains that cut weekend and overtime rates in favour of a slightly higher base wage.

The Commission handed down the much anticipated decision affecting hospitality, pharmacy, retail and fast food workers on Thursday morning.

She makes $550 a week, including $250 on a Sunday, but the penalty rate cut might force her to seek an extra weekday shift to make ends meet.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would fight the cuts "in parliament and in the courts".

He rejected government accusations that he, as minister, implemented the review process, saying that was done in 2009 when Julia Gillard was minister.

While no doubt well-intentioned, the union movement's claim that Fair Work's decision will take a wrecking ball to the living standards of thousands of beleaguered working families is wrongheaded.

Initially, Labor will argue before the commission in March at a scheduled hearing on implementation to not go ahead with the decision.

For workers like Maggie Kowalka, 33, the promise of extra money was a huge factor in wanting to work the unsociable hours on weekends and public holidays.

"The Fair Work Commission in its decision clearly states that they have no intention of this decision flowing on anywhere else", she said.

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong previously told SmartCompany that this solution could have merit for businesses in which staff work across a variety of time periods and have changing rates of pay because of this. "Remember when these venues are closed, casual staff not only don't receive a penalty loading, they don't receive any wage".

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