Café and restaurant owners celebrate Julia Gillard’s back flip on awards

Café, restaurant and catering business owners are celebrating after Federal Workplace Relations Minister bowed to pressure and agreed they can be treated separately under the Rudd Government’s new modern award regime.

Gillard has written to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission requesting that it create a new award for the food service sector, admitting award modernisation process would lead to increase costs which the sector had a limited ability to bear.

“Specifically my request now requires the commission to establish a penalty rate and overtime regime that appropriately recognises the restaurant and catering industry’s core trading times and the labour intensive nature of work in the industry,” Gillard wrote.

The chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Association, John Hart, has spent the weekend taking more than 100 calls from happy members and has hailed Gillard’s decision.

“I was very surprised and it was everything we hoped it to be. She really has to be congratulated for thinking this through and coming up with the right decision.”

Hart and his sector had lobbied hard for relief from the award process, arguing that increase pay for workers could rise by 20% and force business owners to shed jobs.

“We had warned of restaurants going to the wall, considering whether they stay open past 2010 and starting to reconsider extending leases. It really would have had a huge impact.”

Hart says the drafting of the new award will need to happen quickly, given the new awards are scheduled to come into operation on 1 January 2010. “There’s a lot of work to be done and we’re seeking clarification on how that’s going to work.”

The success of the café, restaurant and catering sector in winning a new award has prompted renewed calls from the retail and pharmacy sectors for changes to awards for their sectors.

Retailers want a two-year moratorium on changes due to the financial crisis, while pharmacists are warning wages for their workers will climb 22% under the new award, forcing pharmacists to slash jobs and close.

These sectors may receive some relief, as Gillard has advised the Industrial Relations Commission it should consider the global financial crisis in its deliberating and should also exploit the five-year transition periods available as part of the award modernisation process.




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