By DAN WOODMAN
Not for the first time this year, Workplace Minister Eric Abetz has been forced to calm the rumblings after another government minister weighed in on penalty rates, and why they should be cut.
Changes are unlikely to occur until after a forthcoming Productivity Commission review of workplace relations, and may not come until after the next election, but it’s clear the campaign to justify reducing penalty rates is already underway.
John Hart, CEO of Restaurant and Catering Australia recently called the battle against penalty rates his industry’s “historic fight”. But what of the workers who earn these rates, who are among the lowest paid employees in Australia?
I have spent the past nine years following approximately 1000 young Australians as they transition from secondary school into work. Over half have, at some point during their late-teens and early twenties, earned penalty rates, with hospitality the most common industry. I’ve regularly asked these participants in interviews about the positive and negative aspects of their paid work and its impact on their relationships and study.
As well as the availability of part-time work in industries like hospitality, which they can fit around their other commitments such as education, they say they appreciate penalty rates. Working a Sunday or a public holiday helps them work a little less and still pay the bills, and helps the students keep up with their studies.
All working days are not equal
The negatives they raise show why penalty rates appear to still be justified. While some point to their lack of job security or lack of a career path, the most common issue raised is that the hours they work make it hard to balance their paid employment with finding time to spend with the people they care about, even if the hours they work are part time.
A key plank of the case against penalty rates is that in our modern 24/7 world, additional remuneration of weekend and evening work makes little sense. While working weekends and evenings is indeed becoming more common, particularly for young people, our society has not changed so that all days and times at work are equal. A Sunday, for example, is not the same as a Tuesday.
The major events in family life, such as birthday parties, and the events that people want to attend with friends, like going to the football, continue to be overwhelmingly scheduled on Friday nights or Saturday and Sunday. As one of the young people in the study put it: