It’s been less than a week since the Fair Work Commission’s changes to penalty rates officially came into effect. For casual and part-time workers in the hospitality, retail, pharmaceutical and fast food sectors, this was a bitter pill to swallow.
What do all these positions have in common? They are staffed by a high proportion of students, a section of the workforce reliant on the incentivised nature of Sunday shifts to fund their tertiary education, mostly because their sporadic university schedules do not allow them to hold down a nine-to-five job.
There are plenty of questions worth asking but one in particular – where is the money, taken from the pockets of roughly 700,000 workers, going to end up?
The answer? In the bank accounts of big businesses. The very same that have recorded a 39.7 per cent increase in profits over the last year alone. After all, lobbying for the removal of penalty rates came from the business sector, despite the latest findings from the March quarter.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, profits experienced a six per cent boost, while wages grew by just 0.3 per cent. Essentially, the rich are getting richer and the vulnerable — those who depend on penalty rates to get by — are losing up to $6,000 a year. Unfortunately, it’s not an original narrative.
Many uni students tend to battle as it is, with a propensity for Mi Goreng noodles and packed share houses. Sure, there are plenty who will persist, perhaps with a little less walking around money, but they’ll still be able to fund their education. However, these cuts could well be the turning point for some and the difference between surviving financially or dropping out of university in favour of more employment opportunities.
Thankfully, not everyone is turning the other cheek. Employers from across the country are taking a stand against the movement, continuing to pay Sunday and public holiday rates to their workers. Australian Unions has created a website that lists the businesses protecting penalty rates, of which there are 55 nationally. New South Wales leads the way with 24 participants, followed by Queensland (14) and Victoria (11).
The justification for retaining weekend rates came thick and fast. Tony Fenlon, the Chief Executive of Rockhampton Jockey Club, mentioned the negative impact on the local economy, while Lush Director Peta Granger claimed it would be a “total betrayal” of the business’ relationship with their staff. Velo Cycles General Manager Stuart Armstrong simply said, “I didn’t think it was right morally.”
It might only be a minority at this stage but it’s heartening to see a segment of the Australian business sector standing up for the little guy. Let’s hope this movement can grow and promote the rights of hard working Australians, rather than eating away at their income for the sake of the financial elite.