Looming penalty rates decision clouds iconic public holidays

The Turnbull government’s silence over the approaching decision on penalty rates clouds the future of iconic public holidays such as People’s Day at the Ekka, unions say.

Before the federal election, the Abbott-Turnbull government refused to commit to protecting penalty rates or even support them in submissions for Fair Work Commission considerations.

Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said the Turnbull federal government lied when it promised to respond before the election on its position on penalty rates.

“Now more than a month after the poll – in an election supposedly about industrial relations issues – Queensland families are still in the dark on where this weak and frail government stands on protecting penalty rates,” she said.

“It will not support joint party submissions to the Fair Work Commission that call for protecting existing penalty rates, which means it may want to go even further than the independent umpire recommends,” she said.

“Already workers fear that enterprise contracts could be used to free employers from paying penalty rates to staff for working unsociable hours, especially public holidays like People’s Day at the Ekka.

“Penalty rates ensure that bosses think twice about simply making employees work on public holidays like People’s Day.

“We want to make sure that Queenslanders still have the time off to attend this event, and if they have go to work today and miss People’s Day, then they should continue to be paid extra for it,” she said.

“Currently workers are compensated for working unsociable hours, when they could be spending time with their friends and their families, especially at major community events,” she said.

Post-election polling in marginal seats around Australia by ReachTel has shown the enormous impact weekend penalty rates had in seats with narrow margins.

The swing was especially significant in two Queensland seats lost by the LNP.

A poll commissioned by United Voice found a majority of constituents in Longman, Herbert, Forde, Macarthur, Eden-Monaro, Bass, Dunkley, Solomon, Hindmarsh and Cowan felt strongly about the issue.

The poll found more than 55 per cent of voters in those seats opposed cutting penalty rates, and nearly 59 per cent of voters said the position of the political parties on penalty rates was important to their voting decision.

The sentiment was especially strong in Longman, where nearly 60 per cent of voters surveyed opposed cuts.

Ms McLennan said Malcolm Turnbull had shown during the campaign he was out of touch with community concerns on cuts to penalty rates.

“Every opportunity during the recent election campaign Malcolm Turnbull refused to say he would protect penalty rates, preferring instead to listen to the demands of big business and promise to cut their taxes.

“If penalty rates are abolished, public holidays will be like any other day – your boss can make you work and it won’t cost them anymore.

“Cutting penalty rates would be a pay cut that working Australians cannot afford and do not deserve.”

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