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Much ado about penalty rates

Much ado about penalty rates

Words by Thomas Redmond

“Uh, I think they’re sick, I think they should exist,” a friend told me when asked about penalty rates, “and give them to me.”

I’m inclined to agree.

I remember penalty rates. I’d work 4 hours on a Sunday and get a whopping $96; big numbers for a 16-year-old. All I had to do was stand at a cash register and divide how many individual 10-minute blocks went into an hour, then how many hours went into a four-hour shift; interspersed, of course, with scans and smiles.

I worked at a very busy, successful pub. During my short tenure at this pub, I have noticed there is a culture that has permeated throughout the place. At most, there are muffled complaints surrounding the boss skimming the penalty rates off the top. Many employees are disgruntled about working weekends and not reaping the usual benefits, but keep their complaints just below the surface.

As of July of this year, the latest round of penalty rate cuts were handed down. The main motivation behind penalty rate cuts was the notion that business may be able to afford more staff interspersed throughout their respective institutions. The Fair Work Commission, who originally proposed the cuts, drew from anecdotal stories of small business owners saving money and being able to open on weekends to come to their conclusion. But is this decision the best way forward for many of Australia’s lowest earning workers?

Greg Gericho of the Guardian noted how it had been 5 years since the average Australian wage grew by more than 3%. But cutting hundreds of dollars out of the average retail and hospitality workers’ pay check seems counterintuitive to solving this issue.

“The benefits are sick though,” a work friend told me, “so it sort of evens out.”

Recent studies conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions found that “more than 50% of voters nationwide thought business profits would rise as a result of penalty rate cuts,” yet less than 6% of those polled thought businesses would pass on those savings through wage raises.

“There are many people around the world who would kill to have your job,” my mother often tells me amicably.

She’s right. I like my job, anyway. I’m thankful for the opportunities that my employment has afforded me. As I write this, I’m taking extra precautions to turn down the whininess of my digital voice.

I live at home, with very little personal expenses. Am I biting the hand that feeds me? Am I bound to be the subject of an economics-based Ben Shapiro “owns” video? Why can’t I shake the feeling that the boss at the top just doesn’t care about everybody else below them. Is this the generational entitlement that Daily Telegraph headlines warned me about?

I don’t think so. I think that cutting penalty rates are indicative of a larger problem. If only 6% of the wider Australian public thinks that cutting penalty rates directly correlates to an average raise in wages for some of Australia’s lowest earners, wouldn’t that imply that approximately 94% of the population are at least conscious of the money being sucked out of the system at a base level, directly contributing to the image of the starving uni student?

“Why have you spent all this time complaining – just find a new job?”, one Daily Telegraph reader writes. Is he right?

He’s probably right.

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