Senate inquiry into controversial pay deals

The Australian, June 20, 2017

Senior executives from Coles and Woolworths will come under pressure to front a Senate inquiry into controversial pay deals they struck with the ALP’s largest union affiliate, the shop assistants union.

The Senate yesterday backed a push by Nick Xenophon for an inquiry into enterprise agreements struck between the union and major employers including the supermarket chains, KFC and McDonald’s.

The inquiry will investigate claims that many employees working for the companies receive weekend and public holiday penalty rates that are lower than the industry award.

ALP and union sources admitted they were concerned the inquiry could embarrass the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association and undermine their campaign against the government over penalty-rate cuts imposed­ by the Fair Work Commission.

But Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Labor supported the inquiry.

“Labor is always prepared to examine whether or not the industrial relations laws are working properly to protect penalty rates and workers’ pay and conditions,’’ he told The Australian.

Senator Xenophon said while it was a decision for the inquiry “it would make sense for executives from companies involved to appear to explain how the outcomes were achieved”.

He said it would be “useful” to also invite Fair Work Commission president Iain Ross to appear before the inquiry.

Greens workplace relations spokesman Adam Bandt said workers were being “ripped off”.

“We’re pleased the inquiry is looking at dodgy agreements in the retail, hospitality and fast food sector as well as the Greens’ bill to fix the problem,’’ he said.

The Greens have proposed a bill designed to stop enterprise agreements from going below the award rate for nights, weekends and public holidays.

“Malcolm Turnbull is suddenly pretending to care about workers at McDonald’s and Coles, so now he has a chance to back our bill and show he’s not just crying crocodile tears,’’ Mr Bandt said.

“Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash can get up in front of a camera and yell about unions, but it won’t put one extra dollar in the pocket of young workers being denied their penalty rates.”