Mark Lennon. Published in The Daily Telegraph April 22, 2013


DESPITE overwhelming public support for penalty rates, the push is nevertheless on from the business lobby to scrap them.

For those with a certain way of thinking, you can see how this could make sense on the surface.

Look at business costs and you’ll find electricity doesn’t go up on the weekend and water bills remain constant, so why should workers cost more? Well, for one important reason: weekends matter to people.

The prospect of those days off keeps a lot of us sane.

But here’s the key point about weekends. They are not just two days off – they are the same two days off that the rest of society gets.

That’s why all the stuff that makes life worth living tends to happen on weekends: leisurely Sunday barbecues, a Saturday at the footy, and big Friday nights.

But for society’s days of leisure to happen, we need people to run our transport, to pull our coffees, cook our dinners, swipe our credit cards and keep us safe. We need them to drop out of sync with the rest of society and to miss the fun and important events that are inevitably scheduled over the weekend.

So in the spirit of the Aussie fair go we decided people – typically not earning a great deal – performing this role should be compensated.

I believe it is this basic sense of decency that accounts for the overwhelming public support for penalty rates to stay in place.

But what about the argument we need to scrap penalty rates to boost employment and our economy?

Well, let’s look at facts. American service sector workers generally don’t get penalty rates. Yet US jobless figures are higher than ours.

And as any good economist will tell you, because those who benefit from penalty rates are generally among our low paid, every dollar they get boosts the economy far more than it would for someone on a higher income.

Low-income earners need to spend their money on basic necessities.

Fear mongering about penalty rates strangling restaurants, cafes and retailers from opening on weekends simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Does our city really descend into a caffeine-deprived, gastronomic and retail wasteland as soon as the sun comes up on Saturday? Of course not.

Throw a stone in any key precinct and you’ll be hard pressed not hitting a barista on any Sunday. In fact, stores and restaurants are open everywhere Saturdays and Sundays, because that’s when customers want to relax and eat out. Why? Because it’s the weekend. And that’s the point.

Mark Lennon is Unions NSW secretary

Tagged: Penalty Rates

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