Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie defend Sunday penalty rates: “We mustn’t lose that safety net”

cafe hospitality

Independent senators Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie have defended Sunday penalty rates, arguing consumers will spend less money at small businesses if their weekend rates are reduced.

Speaking on the ABC’s Q&A program last night, Xenophon, whose political party is on track to pick up a number of senate seats in South Australia at the upcoming election, said he has softened his stance on weekend penalty rates.

The South Australian senator was, until recently, a vocal supporter of a reduction in weekend penalty rates, arguing lower penalties will help tackle youth unemployment.

“I handled it [my original policy stance] badly,” Xenophon said.

“I listened and I learnt from both the small businesses and the employees. I think small businesses are doing it tough … But, ultimately – I hate to say it – I’m with Bill Shorten on this. I think you need to have the independent umpire to assess it.”

However Xenophon left open the possibility of supporting a reduction in Sunday penalty rates for small businesses in some circumstances.

“If there is some small variation for small businesses genuinely with a dozen or twenty employees or less, maybe there’s something in that,” he said.

“But we mustn’t lose that safety net.”

Jacqui Lambie says penalty rates allow Australians to spend more money at local businesses

Independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, meanwhile, did not leave the door open to supporting any reduction in weekend penalty rates.

“Last time we let a tribunal or commission decide something was the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal, and 35,000 truck driver owners would have lost their bloody jobs,” Lambie said.

Lambie was referring to the fact the Fair Work Commission will be handing down its decision on whether or not to cut weekend penalty rates later this year.

“Don’t trust those public servants. If you start chipping away at your penalty rates, it’s like Medicare. It’ll be the frontline services that will be next.”

“The money those people earn on Sundays, that feeds back into small businesses in their community. So no way am I supporting penalty cuts for Sundays.”

Why small business wants a penalty rates cut

However Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says many people who work on weekends don’t get award rates under the current system.

“The enterprise agreements with so many big companies have lower penalty rates on Sundays, and in some cases no penalty rates at all,” Strong says.

Strong says people only need to look at the enterprise agreements negotiated by large businesses such as Coles, Woolworths, McDonald’s, Bunnings, Big W, Target, Kmart and Aldi to realise there is already a two-tiered system that disadvantages small businesses.

This is why he wants a reduction in Sunday penalty rates – not to punish workers, but to create a level playing field.

“It’s a real problem,” Strong says.

“How can anyone sit there and say we need to protect our penalty rates when the union’s already gotten rid of them?”


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6 years ago

We’ve become a generation of wanting everything now
Been a few years since going to Perth and Adelaide but was so nice to enjoy the peace and quiet of no weekend trading
If restaurants want to open, fine, charge a premium, but hospitality is already one of the lowest paid industries, and without penalty rates they will earn even less

6 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Except that its now too expensive to employ people on weekends so businesses don’t open. So how much does an employee earn when he or she is not working? That’s right. They earn ZERO.

I expect to see a massive influx of self service checkouts and order selection in the near future, because then you need just one staff member to service 6-12 checkouts, not 6-12 staff. Do the math. If it costs $10k per checkout and $1-2k each for maintenance, then they pay for themselves within 5-6 months. Then there’s no IR issues, penalty rates, payroll tax, Workcover and OHS Compliance, training, HR costs. Win-win for the business, but not for society.

Socialism eventually runs out of other peoples money. Or puts them out of work. Whichever comes first.

Colin Spencer
Colin Spencer
6 years ago

Lambie and Xenonpon must have been influenced by offers of CFMEU sponsorship for the upcoming election. Four restaurants and a wedding venue in my region have closed down during the past two years. Each has stated that the top penalty rates for evening and weekend work made the business un-viable. In boom times, it would have been tenable, but not when times are tight, and employers are unable to trade profitably. The result of these high penalty rates is that hundreds of people who rely on weekend work are now unable to find a job. There has to be a fair balance. Unions just don’t get it.

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