Labor pledges to restore penalty rates without back pay

The Australian, June 27, 2017

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has promised to restore Sunday penalty rates for workers across all industries if he were to be elected.

But Labor will not force businesses to back pay workers for the reductions in Sunday rates, which are to be phased in over four years for retail, fast food, hospitality and pharmacy workers.

“Tonight I give you this solemn pledge for the fight beyond 1 July,” Mr Shorten told the Australian Council of Trade Union conference in Sydney on Tuesday night.

“I promise you this: a new Labor Government will restore the Sunday penalty rates of every single worker affected by this cut.”

“And we will change the law — to protect the take-home pay of working Australians into the future.”

Mr Shorten’s declaration comes before the first stage of the reductions due to come into force on Saturday July 1.

The changes for full time and part time workers will see penalty rates for hospitality workers drop from 175 per cent of their normal rate to 150 per cent, from 200 per cent to 150 per cent for pharmacy workers, from 150 per cent to 125 per cent for fast food workers and from 200 per cent to 150 per cent for retail staff.

These reductions are staggered, coming in each July 1 until 2019 or 2020 depending on the industry, with a 5 per cent first penalty rate cut coming into force on Saturday.

The earliest date for an election would be Saturday August 4, 2018 and the latest possible date is Saturday May 18, 2019.

Labor would introduce legislation aimed to restore the rates from this July but wages would only be increased when these new laws came into effect and workers would not be back paid.

Labor has campaigned against the decrease which the government has generally accepted, bar LNP backbencher George Christensen.

Mr Christensen crossed the floor last week to vote with Labor on an amendment which would have prevented any future decisions by the Fair Work Commission to vary penalty rate conditions in modern awards and prevent unions and business from bargaining away rates. The government used its numbers to defeat the bill 73 votes to 72.

The 5 per cent cut comes on the same day Australian politicians will receive both a pay rise and a tax cut.

Politicians were handed a two per cent pay rise, or a minimum of about $4000, by the Remuneration Tribunal from next Saturday on top of their current $199,040 base salary.

On top of that, the 2 per cent budget repair levy is due to be removed on July 1.

Mr Shorten highlighted this comparison in Tuesday’s speech.

“This weekend in Malcolm Turnbull’s Australia: someone who earns a million dollars will get a tax cut worth $16,400,” Mr Shorten will say.

“And a Mum working a Sunday shift in retail will get her penalty rates cut.”