Coronavirus: Scrap penalty rates, say franchise firms

Franchise Council of Australia chief executive Mary Aldred.
Franchise Council of Australia chief executive Mary Aldred.

The franchise industry has called for the scrapping of weekend and evening penalty rates and higher penalties for employers repeatedly contravening workplace laws, saying the COVID-19 pandemic can be used to “shift the paradigm” on industrial relations.

The Franchise Council of Australia, whose members include McDonald’s and 7-Eleven, has written to Attorney-General Christian Porter seeking to have a series of workplace policy changes considered by the government’s working groups on industrial relations.

The FCA, which claims to represent 98,000 franchised outlets employing 598,000 workers, said penalty rates for working “unsociable” hours were important but “should be based on how modern society operates, not just historic norms that might no longer apply”.

FCA chief executive Mary Aldred said penalty rates should not be paid on Saturdays and Sundays or on weekdays after 7pm.

She said public holiday penalty rates should be capped at double time or replaced with a day-in-lieu.

“At the moment we are in a catastrophic economic environment and (the proposed changes) are providing businesses with the best shot of making it through to a recovery phase,” she said.

Ms Aldred said the proposals put to Mr Porter were “probably the most significant position we have taken on IR” since she became chief executive about two years ago.

The ACTU, which declined to comment, opposes penalty rate cuts while the government has recently left determinations over penalty rate levels to the Fair Work Commission.

In her letter, Mr Aldred advocates award changes allowing employers to give only one hour notice to delay a rostered start time by up to two hours.

She said employers should be able to make staff work up 10 hours — including 60 minutes of unpaid break time — before loadings were incurred, and awards should have a flattened four-classification structure.

“The FCA considers that to progress other necessary reform in industrial relations, a more severe system of penalising flagrant, deliberate and systemic non-compliance may be warranted by way of higher penalties for businesses who repeatedly contravene,” she wrote.

“The FCA strongly supports the need for vigilant compliance and enforcement of this type of deliberate non-compliance.”

She said greater compliance was likely if the Fair Work Ombudsman was empowered to issue public and private rulings on the application of awards and National Employment Standards.

“Where the FWO gives a ruling and that is complied with, the employer is deemed to have complied with their obligations and is, accordingly, protected,” she said.

A spokesman for the Acting Minister for Industrial Relations, Mathias Cormann, said on Wednesday the FCA was not a member of the five working groups “working on solutions to known problems with the IR system”.

“This work is particularly focused on job creation and ensuring Australia can recover as quickly as possible from the impacts of COVID-19,” the spokesman said.

“The working groups have cap­acity to hear from a range of external stakeholders on their views as they go about this important task.”