Employer groups push for changes to “sacred cow” weekend penalty rates

Employer groups say penalty rates should be based on the number of days worked in a week, rather than just on weekends, or businesses will be forced to close their doors.


According to NSW Business Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright, penalty rates are one of the “sacred cows of the industrial relations system”.


However, Cartwright believes the current penalty rate system is impacting employment and the profitability of small businesses.


The chamber, along with Restaurant and Catering Australia, is pushing for penalty rates to be paid based on the number of consecutive shifts worked, rather than the day that it is worked.


Under the plan, workers would be paid a loading of 25% when they worked a consecutive day and 50% loading for working any other consecutive day.


This week, both employer groups will make a final submission to Fair Work Australia on why the award for the hospitality industry should be changed.


John Hart, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, said 70% of the organisation’s 7,600 members have now closed their doors on a day of the week they were open on last year.


“I know what the majority of Australians want to do on the weekend, and I know what I want to do, and that’s go and eat out,” Hart told SmartCompany.


“If we want to keep the weekend as a special time then we have to have a change in penalty rates because if the current regime continues, every restaurant in Australia will be shut on Sunday.”


But both groups are up against the main hospitality union, United Voice, which kicked off a Save Our Aussie Weekend campaign on Sunday to win support from the public to keep penalty rates.


United Voice cited a national poll by Galaxy Research, which found 97% of respondents said weekends are an important time for families, while 87% said weekend work warrants higher rates of pay.


According to union secretary Louise Tarrant, the application by employers would directly hit about 650,000 food service workers, and would flow on to two million others in accommodation and retail industries.


But Hart insists it is “time for a rethink”, saying more businesses are reducing hours and many are closing down.


“Penalty rates were introduced to compensate people working on weekends, and that was around the concept of working Monday to Friday. But that has changed,” he said.


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