It must frustrate the business lobby when every poll shows they are failing to convince Australians that getting rid of penalty rates is a good idea. 

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and their various mates, keep appealing to the self interest of consumers. We are warned about ghost towns of inactivity on weekends. That caffeine-deprived masses are roaming the streets on a Sunday unable to find sustenance because no cafe can afford to open. That if only we could chop the wages of some of the lowest paid workers in the country this would have a transformative effect on our economy - and not simply boost the profits of businesses. 

Let’s assume for a second that such spurious economic arguments are correct. That if we were to chop the weekend and public holiday wages of hospitality workers, and bus drivers, and security guards that somehow that money would end up back in the pockets of consumers and not simply gobbled up as fatter profit margins for businesses.

Even then I suspect the majority of Australians would still support the payment of penalty rates. Why? Because the majority of Australians are decent and fair. 

Many have had direct experience of the impact it has on your life when you are rostered on over the weekend. And many of those without that experience simply have the empathy to understand how valuable the weekend is to them and to imagine how life would change if they had to be worked. 

There is a fundamental principle at play here: working on a weekend comes at a higher personal cost than working on a weekday. If you work weekends you are thrown out of sync with your family, your friends, and your society. You miss birthday parties, and get-togethers, and sporting events, and concerts. You miss being involved with your community during a day of rest. 

The irony is that businesses know weekends are special. That’s why they open on them. But if businesses want to take advantage of the enhanced trading opportunities that exist on weekends, then it is absolutely right that they should reward their workers for it. 

That is simply the cost of doing business in a fair and decent nation.

Australians also understand that those who receive penalty rates are typically earning significantly under the average wage. They know they need those rates to make ends meet. They don’t believe there is a desperate need to start transferring wealth from low-paid workers to large and small business owners.

I suspect Australians also smell a rat whenever they hear politicians or businesses lobbyists talk about the 24/7 economy. 

Because if weekends don’t matter where are the calls for Parliament to sit on Saturdays? Or for the financial markets to stay trading on Sundays? 

The wealthy and powerful would be outraged if they were compelled to miss their weekend social events without some form of compensation. Yet they seem incapable of extending that logic to the low-earners who pour their drinks, cook their meals, and ring their tills. 


Mark Lennon, Secretary, Unions NSW


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