Unions argue penalty rates are “fair compensation for working unsociable hours” and are rejecting Government suggestions their relevance should be reviewed, saying Australians “still value their weekends”.
ACTU president Ged Kearney says the Government’s recommendation opens the way for workers to lose basic rights such as penalty rates.
“They are fair compensation for working very unsociable hours; whatever this Government says we still do value our weekends in Australia,” she said.
“We know that so many people rely on penalty rates just to make ends meet.”
The commission is today beginning its review of the 122 modern awards which protect the bulk of workers except those bound by agreements.
It will take submissions for a variety of stakeholders into account, although the Government’s contribution is a significant one.
Employment Minister Eric Abetz also wants the FWC to consider “the impact of employment costs” on employers’ decisions to hire workers over the next four years.
It follows his recent warning that Australia risks a “wages explosion” if bosses do not start saying “no” to workers and unions requesting pay rises.
Asked for further comment on the Government’s submission, a spokesman for Senator Abetz said “it would be inappropriate to provide additional commentary while proceedings are underway”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the Government’s proposal is “radical” and constitutes another “broken promise” from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“The Abbott Government’s got form,” Mr Shorten said.
“Before the election, they said there was no way they would go back to WorkChoices. It was dead, buried and cremated.
“Now what we’re seeing the Abbott Government doing … opening up the Pandora’s box of ‘let’s cut worker conditions’.”
But business is backing the Government’s approach.
Stephen Cartwright from the New South Wales business chamber says the awards system needs an overhaul.
“We think there should be a greater deal of flexibility when it comes to working weekends,” he said.