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?”