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Sunday rate change a 'blatant attack' on low paid: union

Business

Proposed Sunday penalty rate cuts are a “blatant attack” on low-income employees and families, the union responsible for workers at the heart of the changes says.

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Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association South Australia and Northern Territory secretary Sonia Romeo said any cuts to Sunday pay rates proposed in a federal review could harm the local economy.

“What our economy doesn’t need at the moment is taking away millions of dollars from low-paid workers who will put that money into the economy,” she said.

“It’s a blatant attack on the low paid and families.

“We do not want to lose everything we have fought hard for.

“It may be a case [for employers], be careful what you wish for.”

Employee and business groups have expressed mixed reactions to the proposed changes to Sunday rates, one of a raft of workplace laws and guidelines to come under federal review.

The Australian Productivity Commission yesterday released its Workplace Relations Framework final report, which assesses Australia’s working conditions, considering current laws, institutions and practices.

Under 19 broad key points, the commission stated penalty rates had a role in compensating employees for working long hours or at social times, but Sunday rates should be brought in line with Saturday pay.

“… Sunday penalty rates for hospitality, entertainment, retailing, restaurants and cafes are inconsistent across similar work, anachronistic in the context of changing consumer preferences, and frustrate the job aspirations of the unemployed and those who are only available for work on Sunday,” its report said.

“Rates should be aligned with those on Saturday, creating a weekend rate for each of the relevant industries.”

The report has also looked at how the workplace treats its employees, the functions of the Fair Work Commission, employee protection, migrant workers, awards, wages and bargaining arrangements.

In South Australia, the review of Sunday penalties has received a mixed reaction from trader and employee groups.

The Australian Hotel Association’s SA general manager, Ian Horne, told ABC radio this morning many businesses could not afford to open on Sunday.

“Employers, in our case hotels, cafes, restaurants, are simply not opening and job opportunities are simply not created.”

Romeo, whose union represents 29,000 workers, rejected claims that double-time rates led to cafes shutting up shop on Sundays because it was not worth opening.

“It’s because they want to [close],” she said.

“These are family businesses and that’s their only time that they can close.

“It is difficult for them but I think people are out there and people will spend money.”

According to a Monash University research paper in 2012, Sunday trade accounted for 10 to 25 per cent of weekly trade. However, this figure varies significantly depending on a range of factors, such as store locations.

Due to higher labour costs, the report found that businesses  could trade at a loss on Sunday, as the increase in trade was not always sufficient to offset wages. It also stated that while increased pay was the key benefit of working a Sunday shift, flexibility was another important driver for Sunday work.

A third of retail employees in the study stated they would not work on a Sunday, despite a double pay rate.

Some employees stated they were not able to work, and higher pay rates generally meant more qualified staff tended not to be rostered to work on Sunday to keep labour costs “manageable”, resulting in fewer available hours of choice for those employees.

While many stores could chose whether or not to open on Sunday, in those that were forced to – as a result of property leasing agreements and because they were located in shopping centres – store owners often worked themselves to avoid penalty rates which would otherwise make Sunday trading non-profitable.

Interestingly, in regards to time-and-a-half versus double rate, pay did not increase employee satisfaction, the study found.

It found time-and- a-half rates significantly increased retail employee satisfaction; however, a rate of double- time only marginally increased satisfaction levels.

This means that a Sunday penalty rate of time-and-a-half has the largest impact on employee satisfaction.

An increase in penalty rates was found to present detrimental effects to retail business and industry performance at large.

The report stated that penalty increases would essentially result in a neutral gain for retailers, but staff would receive higher pay for working on Sunday, but less available hours.

Customers would also be negatively impacted in that there would be less available staff to service Sunday trade.

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