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Penalty rate cuts: exempting current workers could reduce hardship, expert says

25 February 2017

The Fair Work Commission has today handed down its decision to reduce Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for hospitality and retail workers from July.

Public holiday penalty rates will also be reduced, with the commission ruling that "existing public holiday penalty rates for full-time and part-time employees in the Hospitality and Retail Awards are neither fair nor relevant".

ACTU president Ged Kearney said cutting penalty rates for some Sunday and public holiday shifts will cut the pay of these workers by up to $6,000 a year.

As the political storm over the penalty rate cut escalated on Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that, although low-paid workers were in line for a pay cut on Sundays, the inquiry had found it would boost employment and work hours.

The problem, he said, was that big retailers' wage deals would still fail the legal test requiring workers to be "better off overall" compared to the award even after the reduction in the minimum award Sunday penalty rate.

It's not every day you'll see the conditions of workers eroded to this extent in a country like ours but here we are.

Full and part-time pharmacy worker wages will be cut on Sundays from double to 150 per cent, and casual workers will be paid 175 per cent instead of 200 per cent.

'You want them to be happy to come in and make that extra dollar and enjoy the day'.

"We need the rules to change so penalty rates can not be cut and our parliament must act now to protect working people".

Mr Wright said Commerce Ballarat expected its member businesses to pass the penalty rates win on to staff through additional hours or by hiring new employees.

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The Commission has effectively found what we know anecdotally to be true - Sundays are no longer sacrosanct.

"That is the nature of the Fair Work Commission", he said.

A Sunday penalty rate cut has employees and employers concerned for the future.

Retail workers face a cut from 200 per cent to 150 per cent for Sunday work.

Employees of some small businesses fall under the state-based system and are not impacted by Fair Work's decision.

According to the latest polls, 82% of Australians support this compensation for working outside the usual working week.

"I work weekends and study through the week", says Elias, who has worked in a Sydney bookstore for four years (he declined to give his last name).

The decision has drawn anger from unions, and workers on social media, with many people concerned about how the cut in penalty rates will impact their wages. "This decision will assist business in creating viable Sunday opportunities which obviously flows through to additional hours for workers whilst assisting owners and Managers achieve better work life balance".

"Personally I think people need to be remunerated if they are spending time away from their families on weekend days", he said.

Public holiday rates will be reduced from 1 July 2017 in the Hospitality Award, Restaurant Award, Clubs Award, Retail Award, Fast Food Award, and the Pharmacy Award.