Bill Shorten: compensate workers over penalty rate cuts

The Australian, January 25, 2017:

Bill Shorten says that workers who have their penalty rates cut should be compensated, with Labor proposing new rules to guide the industrial umpire so employees cannot suffer an overall reduction in take-home pay.

Speaking in Brisbane, the Opposition Leader said Labor would not accept a straight cut to weekend loadings ahead of a key decision by the Fair Work Commission on whether to reduce Sunday penalty rates across seven industry awards in the hospitality and retail sectors.

The comments from Mr Shorten are aimed at ramping up the pressure on Malcolm Turnbull over the government’s plan for Australian workers while also providing Labor with a political strategy in the event the industrial umpire moves to reduce weekend penalty rates.

“We want to make sure that the rules that give the instructions to the independent umpire, the parameters in which wages are set; that these rules do not allow a reduction in workers’ conditions,” Mr Shorten said.

“This country can succeed and flourish and prosper, but it doesn’t need to cut people’s penalty rates to be a successful country. On the contrary, Australia works best when we don’t leave people behind.

“What Labor won’t accept is people having their Sunday rates just cut and that’s it. We don’t believe in reducing people’s wages in this country. We have a strong safety net of a minimum wage, and what we need to see is these conditions aren’t cut.”

Former Liberal employment minister Eric Abetz took aim at Mr Shorten’s plan, saying it betrayed a lack of confidence in the judgment of the Fair Work Commission.

“The only threat to penalty rates in Australia is Bill Shorten. As a union boss, he oversaw penalty rates taken away from low paid union members and as Workplace Relations Minister he changed the law to specifically include penalty rates in the Fair Work Commission’s Awards review — yet now he says he won’t abide by the results of that very review,” Senator Abetz said.

“His comments are also a vote of no confidence in the Fair Work Commission which he himself stacked and packed with his union mates.”

Mr Shorten made the comments ahead of a speech tonight in which he will provide more detail on his plan.

He is expected to defend penalty rates as a crucial mechanism allowing families to put food on the table while also taking aim at Coalition MPs for advocating for reductions in weekend loadings.

Mr Shorten will not propose that penalty rates be set via legislation in the parliament — a position that has been backed by the Greens — but will instead argue that workers can be better protected by changing the rules which guide the FWC’s discretion on the issue.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash also took aim at Mr Shorten’s penalty rates plan, saying his hypocrisy on the issue was “astounding.”

“Mr Shorten is all at sea on this issue. Only last year, he said he’d accept the decision of the Fair Work Commission’s review of penalty rates, which he put in place. Mr Shorten should explain why, if he does not support a change in penalty rates, did he institute a review of penalty rates in the first place,” Senator Cash said.

“The only leader with a history of cutting penalty rates is Mr Shorten. When he was a union Secretary, Mr Shorten’s union struck an agreement that removed penalty rates for low paid cleaner, in return for secret cash payments to the union.”