Senator Zed Seselja has broken ranks to call for “incremental changes” to Australia’s workplace relations system. Photo: Jeffrey Chan Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash says penalty rates are an issue for the Fair Work Commission to address. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Reduce Sunday penalty rates, says Productivity Commission
ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja has called on his Coalition colleagues to shake off their bad memories of Work Choices and have the “courage” to take the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to dump Sunday penalty rates to the next election.
The Liberal backbencher broke rank to back the report into Australia’s workplace relations system, which advocated removing the Sunday loading for hospitality and retail workers to bring penalty rates for working Sundays in line with Saturdays.
“I’ve heard from many business owners in Canberra about the fact that they won’t open on a Sunday as a result of Sunday penalty rates,” Senator Seselja told the ABC’s AM program.
“I think the productivity commission has done some really important work here, I think we should be looking to put some policies to the next election which make some incremental reforms in this area that go down the path the Productivity Commission is recommending.”
The report released on Monday recommended the minimum wage system remain in place as well as penalty rates for shift work and overtime.
But it said Sunday penalty rates for workers in the hospitality and retail industries should be reduced to match lower time-and-a-half rates paid on Saturdays, which will reduce their overall pay.
“I think for a long time people have seen the seven-day-a-week economy but our laws haven’t always kept pace with that,” Senator Seselja said.
“I believe what it will do is create jobs, it will give jobs to people who don’t have jobs and it will give more hours to those who are seeking it in an industry where we often see businesses not bothering to open on a Sunday.”
The recommendation does not extend to emergency workers.
Despite Seselja’s call to adopt the recommendation, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has thus far refused to play the “political rule-in, rule-out game”, saying the matter was up to the Fair Work Commission.
“The government has no plans to change penalty rates,” Senator Cash said on Monday.
“Penalty rates are set by the independent Fair Work Commission, just as interest rates are set by another independent body [the Reserve Bank].”
Senator Seselja said his party should not “always be spooked by the fact we had a Work Choices election in 2007”.
“We’re talking about a whole different set of policies. It does take some courage to put these things to the people.”
But Labor Senate candidate for the ACT David Smith took a swipe at Senator Seselja over the erosion of workplace conditions.
“When Senator Seselja uses the word incremental it is code for stealth – let’s remove rights and conditions in a way we think people won’t notice until they are gone,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith accused the senator of refusing to stand up for Canberra “as thousands of public sector employees have lost their jobs” over the past two years.
“When I have talked to small business owners they have been clear about the pain caused by the thousands of jobs lost in Canberra,” he said.
“Now Senator Seselja has signalled that he wants Canberra hospitality and retail workers and no doubt pharmacists to have their weekend penalty rates slashed. This is not the Christmas message ACT workers and their families needed.”
Senator Seselja’s office has been contacted for comment.
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