March 13, 2017

In what is an extraordinary assault on the ‘fair-go’, many hardworking Australians who are giving up time with family and friends to work today’s public holiday are soon to receive a pay cut.

While a decision has been made to slash the penalty rates of workers in retail and hospitality, this may be the beginning.

As a result of this recent decision, the pay of nurses, teachers, cleaners, construction workers, social and disability services workers and others are at greater risk.

To recap briefly, a decision was made about a fortnight ago by the Fair Work Commission to cut penalty rates for the retail and hospitality and fast food industry awards for those who work on Sundays and public holidays.

Since then recent independent legal advice has confirmed what Labor has been saying, namely, that penalty rates cuts could spread to other industries because the factors considered by the Fair Work Commission in making its decision were not specific to just the hospitality and retail awards.

This would be a devastating blow to these workers, who rely on this money to pay the bills and make ends meet.

For them, penalty rates are not a luxury.

Most people don’t begrudge a person serving them lunch on public holidays, or helping in an emergency getting more money to do so. However not all people think this way.

More than 60 Coalition MPs wanted to see the abolition or reduction of penalty rates and the Turnbull government supports the decision to cut them as fair.

This is completely out of touch.

The Labour Day public holiday celebrates the eight-hour working day and Melbourne was at the forefront of that, being the first city in the world to enshrine it.

It’s somewhat telling that on a day that we are recognising the contributions workers have made and continue to make to our economy, we are fighting against a decision that cuts their hard earned wages.

To my mind it’s clear — cutting penalty rates will hurt workers and their families by taking away the extra money that helps them get by.

It won’t help grow the economy because people will have less money to spend.

And it certainly won’t help local workers and local communities.

Labor will continue to push for our legislation which would stop the cuts to penalty rates because we believe in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

With inequality at a 75 year high, wages growth at historic lows and underemployment at record highs, there could not be a worse time to cut workers’ take home pay.

This Opinion Piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 13 March 2017.