Cafes and restaurants sector welcomes sales jump but say changes to penalty rates still required

Cafes and restaurants may have received a substantial sales boost in January, according to the latest official statistics, but the industry says the upturn must be taken in its seasonal context.

The Restaurant and Catering Association has also said the results won’t dampen its crusade for overhauling penalty rates, an issue about which independent MP Rob Oakeshott spoke out last night.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, retail sales rose 0.3% in January, with cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services making up the bulk of that spending, up by 0.4%. The next closest increase was in department stores, up 0.1%.

But Greg Parkes, head of industrial relations policy at the Restaurant and Catering Association, says the industry shouldn’t get too happy from just one month’s results.

“Obviously, the summer months are always traditionally better for cafes and restaurants. But you have to average this out across all the winter months to get a true picture of what’s going on.”

“We really need to hesitate before we start saying everything has been restored back to the good old days.”

Parkes says the industry is still keen to pursue changes to the way penalty rates are calculated even though sales are increasing, denying the latest downturn was the only catalyst for the complaint about higher wages.

“There are all sorts of pressures happening in the industry. Tourism is down, the dollar is higher, and there have been many forces at play.”

“There’s a combination of reasons why we need to urgently address the whole labour issue.”

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott weighed in on the penalty rates issue, telling the National Press Club yesterday that both sides of Parliament need to be more flexible and changes should be made.

“It is absurd that the largest penalty rates occur on the days when workers want to enjoy going out with their family, yet shops are weighing up in their head whether they want to be open or not,” he said.

“This is so particularly in seasonal communities like mine, a coastal community where you run hot in summer and stop in winter.”

However, fellow independent MP Tony Windsor – also addressing the National Press Club – noted that changing industrial relations laws won’t solve everything.

“Occasionally you hear these claims that we are still in an era of 15 years ago and that is wrong, that time is gone,” he said.

“I see far greater warning clouds from the two-speed economy and the high dollar of course, than I do from differences on industrial relations.”

Parkes says the RCA wants penalty rates approved on an over-time basis, not necessarily granted just because a worker is rostered on a Saturday or Sunday.

“There need to be significant changes made in the way penalty rates operate. The system we have now may have been okay in the 1950s…but we have a 24/7 environment now and it needs to be overhauled.”

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