Workers feeling ‘worthless’ after slash to penalty rates

Workers from the hospitality, retail, fast food and pharmaceutical industries have responded with outrage to the Fair Work Commission’s ruling to slash Sunday penalty rates for more than 700,000 Australians.

Brisbane retail worker Zoe Waller told The New Daily that the reduction in penalty rates made her feel “worthless”.

The 18-year-old works six to seven days a week at three different jobs and with slashed penalty rates, Ms Waller said her most likely option would be to move back in with her parents in order to cope financially.

“My pay is usually about $350 after tax each week, which after rent, electricity, transport and food is really not more than $30 to $50,” Ms Waller said.

“My extra pay on Sunday and public holidays allows me to actually treat myself, put money away into saving, take my animal to the vet or give me enough money to have a proper hospitality weekend: Monday and Tuesday.

“I give up Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, weekends away with the family or simply going to my nephew’s second birthday this weekend to earn extra rates on a Sunday and public holidays. Without that, I’ll have to move back home and that makes me feel like a failure.”

Perth chef Trevor Randell, who has worked in the hospitality industry his entire life, said he was concerned that the lack of incentive to work on Sundays would now deter the more experienced staffers from working that day.

“This is going to attract inexperience to Sunday hours and the people who are trained will be attracted to employers willing to pay a decent rate above the standard rate that is paid,” the 48-year-old told The New Daily.

“People rely on these rates as part of their income and now it’s been cut they have to find the extra 25 per cent that’s been taken away from them.

“This decision is basically taking money off the average person trying to earn a living.”

Mr Randell works six to seven days each week and said Sundays were one of the busiest times for the hospitality industry.

He said he was seriously considering working Monday to Friday to open up more time to spend with his partner and son.

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Melbourne mother of two Nicole De-Simone works both Saturdays and Sundays to help support her family.

“Myself, my husband and our kids get very limited family time as it stands. I had only just picked up the Sunday shift to try and help my family get ahead as we have been struggling a lot lately,” she said.

She had been considering dropping her Saturday shift to spend more time with her husband and children, but said this was no longer an option.

Evelyn Kathner, 61, who spoke at a press conference on Thursday alongside Labor leader Bill Shorten, said she had been a “shivering, shaking mess all day”.

“Every time the government takes away something like this away from lower-income earners they are ripping out a bit of hope,” she said.

“I live with my daughter, there’s no way I could afford to live on my own. She helps me out with the bills and you don’t have much left over for a nice meal or nice things.

“I haven’t had the niceties I thought I would’ve had at this stage of my life. But I just have to keep going.”

The unions responded to the ruling by announcing they would pursue an appeal.

ACTU President Ged Kearney called for the government to pass parallel legislation to protect workers’ take-home pay.

But Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman backed the decision, claiming it was one of the “most progressive” decisions the Australian retail industry has seen.

The new rates will mean a retail worker could expect to lose $72 on a 7.5-hour Sunday shift. For waiting staff in a cafe, the loss would be around $23 on a six-hour shift.

Sydney University law professor Ron McCallum said the penalty cuts would put “downward pressure” on conditions in agreements at large companies when they come to be re-negotiated in future years.

Originally published at The New Daily.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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