More than half of weekend and shift workers say they would stop work if penalty rates were removed, according to research from the University of South Australia.
The finding comes as the Fair Work Commission again turns its attention to cutting penalty rates, with a review of penalties anticipated for next year.
A study from the University of South Australia’s Centre for Work+Life found over half of the 2600 workers surveyed say they would cease working non-standard hours if penalty rates or additional pay were not offered.
The author of the report, Tony Daly, told SmartCompany the study looked at the social repercussions of penalty rates.
“The research addresses the social aspect. Whether penalty rates remain or they are removed, either decision will have a knock-on effect socially,” he says.
“I don’t know anyone who would choose to work Sundays if they didn’t have to.”
Perhaps counterintuitively, the majority of those who said they would no longer work “unsocial” hours if penalty rates were cut were those workers who relied on penalty rates financially.
Around 56% of respondents who said they’d stop work also said they did not rely on penalty rates for household expenses, while nearly three-quarters (72.3%) said they had a reliance on penalty rates for household expenses.
“It comes down to how much are you willing to sacrifice?” says Daly.
“If you try and save on money and household expenses, then you spend weekends with your family.”
Daly says he imagines any move to change penalty rates would happen incrementally, and he can’t imagine rates would be axed altogether.
“For those that run small businesses, who says they want to work Sundays either? There is a balance between the financial imperative and the social imperative.”
But Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany the research appeared to be “push polling”.
“If you ask anybody would you keep working Sundays without penalties, of course they’d say no. It’s a pointed question,” says Strong.
“But what if they ask these people who don’t have a job at all?”
Strong says businesses are closing their doors because penalty rates are too high,
“By the look of the results, it won’t get people back into jobs that have disappeared.”
But Daly says “if it came to the crunch” and workers had to decide on working for less or not working at all, the decision may be slightly altered.