The Turnbull government has hand-balled responsibility for protecting people facing big pay cuts on Sundays and public holidays to the Fair Work Commission, effectively guaranteeing Labor and the union movement will mount a ferocious industrial relations campaign all the way until the next election.
In its long-awaited response to the commission’s February decision to cut penalty rates for workers in the hospitality, fast food, retail and pharmacy sectors, the government has made no suggestion on how the pay packets of those affected can be protected.
The government’s support for the penalty-rate cut will delight the business community and the Liberal Party base, who have long argued for a cut to Sunday penalty rates but will also hand a potent political weapon to the labour movement.
Labor, in its submission, restated its opposition to the cuts because of the impact on low-paid workers, and suggested the commission had misunderstood the laws it was required to interpret.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said: “These are Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts: he supports them, he could stop them if he wanted. Up to 700,000 Australians will lose up to $77 a week because of Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts.
“Inequality is at a 75-year high and wages growth is at record lows – yet Malcolm Turnbull is doing everything he can to give big business a $50 billion tax cut and doing nothing to stop a pay cut for 700,000 workers.”
But the Turnbull Government made it clear it did not consider it had any responsibility to suggest how low-paid workers’ pay packets could best be protected and rejected the option of legislating to allow take-home pay orders that would compensate those affected.
This was considered potentially the most effective way of protecting pay packets.
Instead, the government noted those orders were not applicable under existing legislation, highlighted the independence of the commission and noted previous cuts to penalty rates had occurred in 2008 and in 2010.
The government also estimated 300,000 to 450,000 people would be hit by the decision – not the 700,000 estimated by the union movement – when the decision is implemented from July 1.
In its February decision, the Fair Work Commission concluded cutting penalty rates immediately would hurt those who earn just enough to cover their weekly expenses and stated that “appropriate transitional arrangements” would be necessary to mitigate the hardship caused to employees who work on Sundays.
The commission asked for submissions on delaying the change for 12 months, issuing take-home pay orders, grandfathering or “red circling” penalty rates for existing employees and applying the lower rate to only new employees and, finally, phasing the cut in over two to five years.
But the government’s submission simply noted that take-home pay orders are not applicable, quotes the commission’s view that it does not support delaying the implementation 12 months or support “red-circling” and says the commission should make its own decision on transitional arrangements.
Labor argued in its submission there was “no transitional process or period that could be devised which would ever restore the real wage rates for all current employees under the relevant award”.
And it argued take-home pay orders would only operate for a limited period and thus have limited effect.
Last week, Prime Minister Mr Turnbull, for the first time, offered explicit government support for a cut to penalty rates.
The commission has recommended cuts in the retail sector, for full-time and part-time workers, which will see their Sunday penalty rates cut from 200 per cent to 150 per cent, while casuals will go from 200 per cent to 175 per cent.
Hospitality employees will face a cut in Sunday pay from 175 per cent to 150 per cent, fast-food workers will see their Sunday rates go from 150 per cent to 125 per cent for full-time and part-time staff and casuals will go from 200 per cent to 175 per cent.
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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.