Stop penalty rate cuts

Queensland teachers are and should stand with workers in the hospitality, retail and fast-food industries in opposing cuts to penalty rates. Predictably, there are already attempts to flow-on the reductions to hairdressers, and, through bargaining, to nurses.

The proposition is very simple: people working the same hours in the same job as before should not be paid less than before - 700,000 Australians should not have their pay cut. It’s wrong. And whether penalty rates affect Queensland teachers or not, we should say it is wrong and support those who are affected. These are generally low-paid workers, and the impact of reduced pay will be all the more keenly felt. A Saturday shift or a Sunday shift, with the all the associated difficulties, is often the difference that makes a living wage.

It is wrong to change penalty rates without considering wages as a whole. I don’t agree that Saturday and Sunday are no different from any other day. Parliament doesn’t sit. The Fair Work Commission doesn’t sit. All the employer associations who called for the reduction are shut on Saturday and Sunday.

If, for the sake of argument, one does accept that one day is the same as another, you can’t just change penalty rates without considering the base rate of pay. The current arrangements are the result of a long history of negotiations and decisions that balanced base pay and penalties. Instead the question has been approached as if the two elements are entirely separate.

Australia should not be aiming for the American experience of workers having to work three minimum wage jobs to survive. A business that can only survive by lowering the pay of workers has no right to exist. A number of employers have already stated that they will not be reducing penalty rates when the cuts come into force. Support the employers who don’t support cutting employee pay.

Graham Moloney                                                                                                             General Secretary

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 3, 14 April 2017, p23