Xenophon urges ban on below award penalty rates

The Australian, October 5, 2017

Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon has called for a ban on enterprise agreements that include below-award penalty rates, and backed parliament’s overturning the Fair Work Commission’s cuts to Sunday penalty rates.

Senator Xenophon said the Fair Work Act should be amended to ensure agreements did not contain clauses that resulted in employees receiving penalty rates that were lower than rates specified in a relevant award.

In the meantime, he said, employers or unions seeking to deviate from an award should have to provide a statutory declaration to the Fair Work Commission outlining specific clauses in an agreement that differ from the award, and the reasons for them.

Senator Xenophon’s comments are included in a report by a Senate committee tabled yesterday that examined whether large employers got a competitive advantage over small businesses by striking pay deals with the shop assistants union.

He said it was ironic the union was challenging the commission’s decision to cut penalty rates on weekends when it had been party to agreements that paid below-award penalty rates or no penalty rates. He said the union’s argument that such agreements delivered a higher weekly rate of pay and other benefits for employees was a “red herring”.

Many workers were financially worse off under the agreements than they would be if they were paid at the award rate “and this is unfair and unacceptable”.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said Labor had used its majority on the Senate committee to shut down the inquiry early and “saved Bill Shorten’s union, the Australian Workers Union, the embarrassment of giving evidence about their own deals which slashed penalty rates”.