Page 3831 - Week 12 - Thursday, 29 October 2015

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Public holidays remain significant cultural and religious occasions in the life of the broader Australian community. However, as there are no restrictions to trade over Easter in the ACT, employees in the service industry may face unwanted pressure to work rather than to participate in family, religious or community celebrations on that day. These days should be fully protected in law and should be observed in a manner which provides a meaningful benefit to employees engaged in seven-day service industries such as hospitality and retail.

For workers in service type industries public holidays are the only guaranteed days in the year that they can plan to make leave arrangements. This is due to expansive employer rostering discretion, the use of annual leave blackout periods and the increasing span of trading hours directly associated with the sales which occur at festive times of the year. These days also commonly, if not exclusively, fall on days in the midst of school holidays. On these days working parents, particularly a high proportion of working mothers, depend upon the practical effect of being able to reasonably refuse to work on public holidays to ensure they can spend guaranteed time with then children.

Some businesses in the growing sectors of retail and hospitality are calling for penalty rates for working over the Easter break to be cut, citing undue pressure on business. Paying workers penalty rates for working over Easter benefits businesses in the long term because it will increase disposable income for some of the country’s lowest paid workers which, in turn, will be spent in local businesses.

The Productivity Commission has recently released its review of the Fair Work Act 2009, the commonwealth act, for consideration and comment by stakeholders. As I have said in this place before, I have expressed serious concerns about a number of the commission’s recommendations. By way of example, while the federal government has ruled out immediate changes to penalty rates, the commission’s draft report overcomes this by recommending that the Fair Work Commission introduce new penalty rates as part of its four-yearly review into modern awards. The commission argues the changes would act as a floor to the penalty rate and employers may decide to pay more if they find it hard to attract employees on Sundays. The commission has also recommended that state and territory governments should not be able to unilaterally trigger costs for employers by creating new public holidays and that employees should be able to vote to swap some existing public holidays to times that suit them better.

The commission’s recommendations represent an attack on workers’ rights and ultimately seek to remove penalty rates for workers in restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs and would slash the pay of many of the territory’s lowest paid workers. Low paid workers in the restaurant, catering and hospitality sectors rely on penalty rates not only to compensate them for working unsociable hours but also to help them make ends meet. Penalty rates exist because the community expects that, if people forgo their evenings, weekends or public holidays to work, they should be compensated.

The ACT has a strong culture of dining out in the evenings and on weekends, and businesses open their doors to profit from that demand. They hire mums, dads,

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