Penalty rates a big deal for small business, as two-faced Shorten knows


Recently, the independent Fair Work Commission made a decision to make moderate changes to Sunday and public holiday penalty rates. They are not “slashed”. They have been adjusted to more closely reflect Saturday rates.

The decision applies to only five of 122 awards and affects only the retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy sectors. The changes will affect about 3-4 per cent of Australia’s workforce. The commission made it abundantly clear that its decision will have no impact on other industries.

The government respects the independence of the commission and anyone who approaches this issue honestly will acknowledge the benefits the decision will bring for small businesses and jobs.

We understand that governments don’t create jobs, employers do. Small businesses employ millions of Australians who strongly support this decision. The evidence provided to the commission is typical of thousands of workplaces throughout the country.

For example, Mr Gough owns a specialty deli in Ballina that employs 20 people. Due to high Sunday penalty rates, he works on Sundays for free. He told the commission that with moderate changes, he could open the store’s bakery on Sunday, work fewer unpaid hours and pay for more staff.

Mr Da Rui knows his pharmacy in Bayswater, Western Australia, provides an important service to his local community. With moderate changes in penalty rates, he could roster on additional pharmacists to spend valuable one-on-one time with patients.

Many hotel owners — from Fitzroy to Broken Hill to Rockhampton — have been reducing trading hours, cutting shifts or working on Sundays unpaid. They believe moderate changes will improve customer service and create jobs. And thousands of small shops and businesses have the chance to compete on a more even playing field with big businesses.

What Labor never mentions is that big businesses already avoid paying high penalty rates on Sundays because of pay deals negotiated with union leaders through enterprise bargaining agreements. These agreements include Sunday rates far below award rates.

For example, a suburban greengrocer must pay permanent staff $5 an hour more than Woolworths, a family-owned takeaway must pay $8 an hour more than McDonald’s, and a bed and breakfast must pay $10 an hour more than a five-star hotel.

How is this fair? How does it help small business create jobs? Big employers have the option of doing deals with big unions to reduce Sunday rates. Small businesses do not.

The decision of the Fair Work Commission means affected workers will still receive weekend penalty rates, but the Sunday rates will be closer to Saturday rates, which remain unchanged.

For example, instead of double time on Sundays, casuals on the retail award will receive time-and-three-quarters and permanent staff time-and-a-half.

This reflects modern shopping trends, where more customers want to shop and more people want to work on Sundays — especially young Australians.

Just as interest rate decisions are made by the Reserve Bank to remove any suggestion of political interference, decisions about awards and conditions are made independently by the Fair Work Commission. This ensures outcomes are balanced, evidence-based and apolitical.

While Bill Shorten seeks to ridicule the commission’s decision, he hypocritically overlooks the fact in 2013, as workplace relations minister, he established the review that led to the recent decision. He amended the Fair Work Act to require the commission to review penalty rates and appointed its president and many of its members. He also said he would accept the commission’s decision, even if it reduced certain rates.

Having set the rules, selected the umpire and said he’d respect his decision, Shorten is throwing a wobbly that would put John McEnroe to shame. His hypocrisy is reinforced by his silence on the deals done by big employers to reduce Sunday rates. These deals have been done under the Fair Work system Labor put in place.

Shorten disregards the interests of small businesses and the jobs they create. Small-business owners are the backbone of our communities. They take financial risks, often putting their family home on the line, and work tirelessly to get ahead. When they succeed, we all benefit through a stronger economy with more jobs.

Small-business owners are too busy working to whinge, they don’t have a political megaphone and their employees aren’t heavily unionised. Shorten doesn’t want to hear them and Labor doesn’t care. Labor opposes tax relief for small business. Labor puts green ideology before affordable electricity for small businesses. Labor opposes legislation to protect small businesses from Construction Fores¬try Mining and Energy Union thuggery on building sites. Now Labor denies small businesses the ability to compete with big business. Small business will oppose Shorten’s posturing and his continuing attack on their viability.

This opinion piece by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash first appeared in The Australian on Wednesday, 15 March 2017.