Penalty rates decision delayed by Fair Work Commission

The Australian, September 9, 2016:

Business hopes of an imminent reduction in labour costs have been dashed, after the Fair Work Commission unexpectedly delayed its decision on whether to cut Sunday penalty rates until at least December.

Tribunal president Iain Ross yesterday called for further evidence from employers pushing for penalty rate cuts, with a special hearing to be held late this month.

A decision by the commission is unlikely now before December and could even be pushed back to early next year.

While the delay will frustrate employers, The Australian understands there is growing support inside the commission for some cuts to Sunday penalty rates in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors. Commission members are believed to be sympathetic to employer arguments that penalty rate cuts are justified because of societal changes and, to a lesser extent, a positive employment impact associated with reducing penalties.

As part of the review, Justice Ross, who had been expected to hand down the decision this month, is considering the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that Sunday rates in certain industries be cut to match Saturday rates.

In a statement late yesterday, Justice Ross told the Australian Industry Group that it needed to make further submissions in relation to a survey of fast-food workers about their employment preferences.

The Ai Group had been directed to provide the classification of the workers surveyed, but given the workers had not been asked their classification, it broke down the survey results based on employment status and age.

Stephen Smith, head of Ai Group’s national workplace relations policy, last night said the organisation remained hopeful the commission would bring Sunday penalties into line with Saturday rates for fast-food workers. “A large proportion of the employees in the fast food industry are young people with study commitments, and they are not available to work during normal business hours,’’ he said. “Many employees in the industry prefer to work on weekends, including Sundays.”

According to the survey, the most common reason given for employees wanting to work Saturday rather than Sunday was because they wanted to spend time with their family on Sundays. While employees aged 15 years and under said their preference for working Sunday was due to sporting commitments on Saturdays, those aged 16 to 24 years said their preference was based on more friends being available to socialise on Saturday.

In the statement, the commission said the material appeared to show employee preferences to work some or more hours on a Saturday or a Sunday varied depending on the age and employment status of the employee. “For example, a majority of fulltime employees would not work some or more hours on a Sunday if they were offered those hours whereas a majority of casual employees would work the additional Sunday hours,’’ it said.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has said the government would leave penalty rates to be determined by the commission.