Battle lines are being drawn over penalty rates

The Australian, March 1, 2017 (EXTRACT):

Bill Shorten stood before Labor MPs yesterday and declared the battle over penalty rates was the “fight Labor was born for”.

If he wins office, Shorten has promised to reverse last week’s Fair Work Commission decision to cut penalty rates in the retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy sectors.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson says employers “will stick up for the independence of the independent workplace relations tribunal, and we will work hard to see last week’s sensible and balanced decision implemented”.

“The Fair Work Commission found that reducing some excessive penalty rates on Sundays and public holidays will help to create jobs, to deliver more work hours for the underemployed and make more services available to the community,’’ Pearson says.

“We cannot afford for these gains to be sacrificed in pursuit of political advantage. We will work with our membership network of more than 300,000 businesses across the country to explain the benefits that will flow to the community from the commission’s ­decision.”

With unions threatening a Work Choices-style campaign against the government, Coalition ministers are keen for business to campaign in favour of the cuts and actively promote their benefits.

Employers say they have spent millions of dollars on the legal proceedings and have limited resources to run a political campaign.

Kate Carnell, the Small Business Ombudsman and former ACCI chief, says the penalty rates cuts are welcomed by small business, which has been grappling with rising operating costs and tighter margins.

“Honest, hardworking small-business owners now have the freedom to stay open longer on the weekend, to offer their employees more hours and ultimately maintain the goodwill of their customers, who expect them to be open seven days a week,” she says.

But Carnell says small employers also fear reprisal from ­unions if they speak out in support of the cuts.

“Small-business employers are reluctant to speak out for fear of being victims of what is shaping up to be a typically misleading, highly orchestrated and vitriolic union campaign,’’ she says.

“Let’s face it, the unions have form when it comes to using bullying tactics to intimidate mum-and-dad small business owners.

“You need only go back to 2015 when ­social media was used by unionists to attack small businesses who dared speak up on the exorbitant costs of staying open over the Easter break.”

Carnell says when she raised her concern about the union tactics directly with Kearney in 2015, the ACTU president was unapologetic, saying “it’s war”.

“Small businesses are just too scared given what’s happened in the past when unions used social media to attack them, to force a boycott of their businesses and to ultimately undermine their livelihood,’’ Carnell says.

“When the gloves come off like this, struggling small businesses just don’t stand a chance against the might and money of the union movement.

“Small businesses simply don’t have the time or the resources to fight back.”