THE Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is spreading a misleading and irresponsible message about ‘government’ cuts to penalty rates, says Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch.
“Penalty rates are decided by the Fair Work Commission an independent organisation that was set up by Labor, under Labor’s legislation, and that was endorsed by the unions,” Mr Entsch said.
“The Government’s strong position is that all award entitlements, including penalty rates, are a matter for the Fair Work Commission to determine. I note that the Opposition shares this view, as was stated recently by Brendan O’Connor MP, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.”
Mr Entsch said he was well aware of the significance of penalty rates to workers, especially the lower paid, and he had always supported penalty rates for those workers who are asked to work extended hours outside of their standard hours of work.
“At the same time, I also recognise the concerns of business owners in regards to the impact of penalty rates on jobs and opening hours, particularly in Leichhardt where we have so many small businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry.”
Mr Entsch added the ACTU needed to “stop flogging the dead horse of Workchoices” and get its facts right instead of alarming people with false information.
“The claim that Individual Flexibility Arrangements in the Fair Work Act Amendments Bill are intended to undermine penalty rates is patently false,” Mr Entsch stated.
“IFAs aim to give people better flexibility in striking their own desired work/life balance.
“They do not impact on existing penalty rate arrangements, rather they will enable people to negotiate individual working arrangements with their employer in cases where they want to change their working hours to look after a sick parent, coach their kids’ rugby team, study or volunteer.”
For example, under an IFA, a worker who wanted to study from home on a Friday could ask their employer if they could amend their working hours to work 8am-6pm four days a week instead of 9am-5pm five days a week. Instead of the extra two hours a day being paid at penalty or overtime rates, it would be at their normal rate because the worker has accepted that this arrangement suits their lifestyle or needs better.
“Importantly, there are key safeguards that will ensure that an employer cannot force an employee to sign an IFA and workers are not disadvantaged they must be better off overall,” Mr Entsch said.
“The key objective of the IFAs and of the Fair Work review is to develop a modern, dynamic and flexible economy but not to disadvantage the worker.
“If anyone has concerns about modern awards I’d urge them to get involved in the four-yearly review of modern awards currently being undertaken by the Fair Work Commission.”
NOTE TO EDITORS: It was the Fair Work Commission which, earlier this year, reduced penalty rate loadings from 175 per cent to 150 per cent for casual employees who work on Sundays. While the ACTU labelled this a “25 per cent cut”, this was not accurate – it was actually a 25 percentage point drop, equating to 14.28 per cent reduction.