PENALTY RATES ARE AN AUSTRALIAN VALUE
House of Representatives, 13 August 2018
Given that there are no government speakers taking the jump, I thought I would use this opportunity to say a few words about the Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018 and the importance of maintaining penalty rates.
Let's face it, when was the last time you planned your child's birthday party for a Monday morning, went to a christening on a Tuesday, invited friends to your house for a barbecue lunch on a Wednesday or went off to see the AFL Grand Final on a Thursday lunchtime? The fact is weekends exist for a reason. They help workers coordinate socialising time together, which is so vital to the health of the Australian community.
We live in an Australia that has become more disconnected over recent decades. We've seen a decline in the share of Australians attending church or being part of community groups such as the Scouts, the Guides, Rotary and Lions. Surveys that I've helped to have commissioned over the years have shown that the share of Australians who know their neighbours has fallen and the number of close friends that Australians can count has dwindled. So protecting the weekend is absolutely vital to building the strength of social capital in Australia. The strength of the weekend reflects the ability of a society to get together to enjoy life. The purpose of life is not to work. It is terrific when we add to GDP, but GDP is not the sole benchmark of the performance of a society. When we have strong weekends, when people can get together with their friends and neighbours, we are healthier as a society. Frankly, things work a lot better in a society with a high degree of social capital and civic connectedness. Playing sport, being part of a union, attending religious services and supporting community life are fundamental to the kind of Australia that many people want to live in.
Yet we've seen attempts from the conservative side of politics to hack into penalty rates. This is the side of politics that often touts its ‘family values’ credentials and says that it is the party that believes in supporting families.
But what can be more fundamental to family values than the ability of someone to know that they will be able to attend a child's birthday party, take their kids to sport on weekends and not have their weekends treated by their employer like any other day? Those who are working on the weekends ought to be properly remunerated. Those who are working as baristas or waitstaff are workers who are spending time away from their family, and it is appropriate that they are compensated through the system of penalty rates which defend the weekend.
Penalty rates are a bulwark against the attempt of unchecked market forces to take over the weekend and to corporatise the weekend. When baristas and waitstaff spend time away from their friends and family, often the cafe or restaurant will put in place a surcharge for Sundays and public holidays. I don't think anyone in this place begrudges paying that surcharge, because that recognises that you're there enjoying socialising at a time when others are working to literally put the food on your table.
The money that goes to penalty rates disproportionately goes to those who are at the lower end of the income spectrum. The weekly minimum wage set by the Restaurant Industry Award is not much over $600, less than half the average median wage. Those getting penalty rates aren't using them to go off and buy yachts; they're putting them into paying the family bills. So penalty rates go back into the economy. I know there are some business leaders who love to have low-paid workers and high-paid customers. Sadly, workers and customers are the same group of people. If you cut the pay of workers, particularly those workers who are spending their whole pay cheque, then you cut the amount of money that goes back into the economy.
To treat Saturday and Sunday as standard days of the working week would mean that shop assistants, petrol station workers, bakers and hundreds of other kinds of workers would lose their penalty rates. Penalty rates have a long and distinguished history, going back to 1947, and they reflect the simple notion that at least three-quarters of Australians support—that penalty rates are an Australian value and an egalitarian value.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra