Labor ‘hypocrisy’ exposed on penalty rates, says Martin Ferguson

The Australian, August 31, 2017

Former ACTU president Martin Ferguson has accused the ALP and unions of “hypocrisy and dishonesty” for opposing Fair Work Commission cuts to penalty rates while unions did deals with big employers to cut Sunday rates in return for higher base pay.

Mr Ferguson was backed by Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Peter Strong, who claimed the ALP and ACTU were engaged in “disgraceful double standards” given they opposed the commission decision but ­defended deals by the Labor-affiliated shop assistants union to cut Sunday rates in exchange for ­increased base pay.

Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon said yesterday the deals done by the SDA with major employers appeared to be “very much against the spirit of the save our penalty rates campaign” run by Labor and unions.

Mr Ferguson attacked the Labor Party and the ACTU after The Australian reported yesterday that 410,000 workers were covered by union pay deals with big employers that had zero or below-award Sunday penalty rates in ­return for higher base pay.

Mr Ferguson, chair of Tourism Accommodation Australia and a resources lobbyist, said the commission’s decision to cut Sunday rates was an attempt to give small business the “same opportunities that big business has negotiated freely with the trade union movement over many, many years”.

“For this reason, I find it ­astounding that the ACTU, in close collaboration with the federal Labor Party, is frothing at the mouth at the thought of the Fair Work Commission deciding on merit that small businesses, who are often struggling to make a quid, should get the same benefits that the big retailers and the hospitality operators get through union agreements,’’ he said.

“In my opinion, the campaign of the Labor Party, in association with the union movement, is based on hypocrisy and dishonesty when you look at the nature of the agreements that have existed for many, many years. But they now condemn the Fair Work Commission for having the decency to give small business the same benefits.

“I find it astonishing that present and former trade union officials, and past and present Labor members of parliament, some of whom continue to be senior parliamentary representatives, think it’s wrong that an independent tribunal can do it, but they can do it in their normal duties as former and current trade union officials.”

Labor workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor hit back at Mr Ferguson last night. “Anyone who can’t see the difference between cutting penalty rates without any compensation and negotiating outcomes where you are better off overall lacks the basic understanding of our Fair Work laws,’’ he said.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus defended the union deals with larger employers, saying a Department of Employment analysis looked in isolation at Sunday rates paid by companies operating seven days a week.

“So if you’re getting a higher rate on the weekday, or on a Saturday, or at night, or other benefits overall, if your pay over a pay ­period is higher than it would have been under the award, that is the test that needs to be made,” she told Sky News. “Not just looking at one hour on a Sunday and saying, oh, because that’s a bit less that people are worse off.

“In the end, you know, independent umpires look at these things. If there’s a problem with any agreement, if there is any worker who is worse off as a result, or has been overlooked, that needs to be fixed. No worker should get paid less than what they would have got paid overall, over a pay period, under their award.”