ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Cutting penalty rates a real disappointment for working Canberrans

24 February 2017

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has expressed disappointment that the Fair Work Commission has put the interests of employers, shoppers, diners and holiday makers ahead of low paid workers in insecure jobs. 

Susan Helyar, Director of ACTCOSS said, “We know many people in Canberra who work in retail, hospitality and fast food outlets are only keeping a roof over their heads, food on the table and a car on the road because of the extra pay they collect for working on Sunday or on a public holiday. 

“Not all Canberrans are fortunate to have access to a secure job with enough hours of work every week at a living wage,” said Ms Helyar.

“Some employees rely on their income through late night or early shift work – including working on Sundays. This could be single parents, university students or families seeking a second income to pay the rent or mortgage. Growing numbers of people in these circumstances are making ends meet through the support of emergency relief and financial assistance services. Cutting their penalty rates will increase demand for these already stretched community services.

“The decision to cut penalty rates on a Sunday and on public holidays is predicated on the argument that employers will offer staff more hours of work and more reliable hours. This argument is hard to believe when what we see every day is more industries adopting insecure work arrangements to maximise flexibility for business operations and reduce financial risk to employers.  

“We heard the Reserve Bank Governor expressing concern just this week about the risks to consumer confidence when there is no real growth in wages and increasing levels of household debt. We know from the post GFC economic downturn in other countries that cutting the wages of low paid workers compromises economic growth and exacerbates recessions.  

“It is these economic conditions that indicate it is exactly the wrong time for full time or part time retail workers to have to deal with a 50% cut to their Sunday penalty rates (200% down to 150%), for casual workers it’s a 25% cut (200% down to 175%).

“People in our community living in the lower two income quintiles (living on less than $1125 per week) will be the hardest hit. With public transport, parking fees, utility bills and rent increasing, and now their take home pay being reduced, more people in Canberra will have even less ability to cope with the high costs of living in this city.”  

Ms Helyar concluded, “Improved convenience and amenity for shoppers, diners and holiday makers should not be achieved by increasing financial insecurity and greater inequality for the people who work in retail, hospitality and fast food workplaces.”

For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.