Penalty rates debate working for Labor – April 2017

Filed under: Employment and Education, Industrial Relations, Politics, Australian Politics, Trade and industry,

Labor continues to harass the Government over proposed penalty rate cuts for many of Australia’s lowest paid workers.

The Senate has passed, as “a matter of urgency”, a motion condemning the Prime Minister's, "lack of empathy for Australian workers who rely on penalty rates to make ends meet".

And the Senate seems likely to support a Labor bill that seeks to block the cuts proposed by the Fair Work Commission. The bill faces defeat in the House of Representatives but adds to the pressure on Malcolm Turnbull to intervene.

One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team and crossbench Senator Derryn Hinch have reversed their positions and will now back Labor's bill.

During the Senate urgency debate, Senator Hinch openly acknowledged public pressure and a "very clever campaign" run by Labor had forced him to change his long-held position on Sunday and public holiday penalty rates. "I believe they should be the same as Saturday rates … on this I supported the umpire's decision," he said.

"But in my maiden speech I promised I would listen. I have decided now to go to the third umpire, and the third umpire's decision is that cuts to Sunday penalty rates are O-U-T, out!"

One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson had also supported the FWC decision, arguing it would give "struggling small businesses" a chance at growth, but she too appeared to have caved in to public pressure.

Labor's employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor welcomed the apparent change of heart but questioned whether the crossbenchers were in fact trying to save their own jobs. "I question their motives," he said.

"I think they're more interested in their own futures, not the futures of those 700,000 workers and their families who'll be so badly affected if this decision is allowed to stand."

Last month's decision by the FWC to reduce Sunday and holiday penalty rates for some workers in the hospitality, retail and fast-food industries has sparked a controversy that is worrying some members of the Government.

Their concerns were exacerbated by the Treasurer urging no increase in the annual review of the minimum wage

Mr Turnbull initially tried to distance himself from the ruling but he later backed it, arguing the Government respected the independence of the FWC and was standing up for small business.

Mr Shorten has warned the penalty rate cuts were the "thin end of the wedge" for workers in other industries and called on Mr Turnbull to support Labor's bill to, "protect the take-home pay of Australian battlers".

Instead, the Government has stepped up its attack on Labor’s trade union connections. It has introduced legislation providing that people who make secret payments to unions could be imprisoned for up to 10 years. (See Government seeks ban on secret union payments).

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