I am certainly pleased to speak against this motion today. I have long advocated for the reduction of penalty rates, and I refuse to be a hypocrite like the Leader of the Opposition.
Leichhardt is the electorate most highly dependent on tourism. It is responsible for 20 per cent of employment, and it is a seven-day-a-week industry. Tourists want to have a meal, go shopping and hit the nightclubs regardless of what—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Your reference to the opposition leader might be considered unparliamentary, and I ask you to withdraw it.
Mr ENTSCH: I withdraw. Tourists want to have a meal, go shopping and hit the nightclubs regardless of what day it is. A lot of people also choose to work on weekends, they might be university students or mums who can only work that day because dad is at home with the kids.
Around Australia, the nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work week is becoming less and less relevant. The Fair Work Commission's proposed changes to Sunday and public holiday penalty rates, in my view, are long overdue.
Critically, the impact of these changes should not be overexaggerated, as Labor is intent on doing. They are only very minor changes and will apply to just 2.8 per cent of employed Australians. Rates will be reduced by either 25 or 50 percentage points, bearing in mind a casual hospitality worker receives double time and three-quarters on public holidays.
With the changes, a casual pharmacy assistant who earns $38.88 an hour on a Sunday would now earn $34.02 and a full-time bartender earning $31.87 an hour would now earn $27.32. These are still good wages for an eight-hour shift on a Sunday. A casual shop assistant will earn more than $270 a day and $388 on a public holiday.
Do not forget that, thanks to the union-sanctioned enterprise bargaining agreements, employees at fast-food chains and major hotels already earn less than the award. So they will not be affected. Staff who are paid higher than the award also will not be affected. This is common in my electorate, where the market dictates wages—so that, if you want a top-notch head chef, you pay accordingly.
The biggest impact is going to be on small businesses and mum and dad operators. If you own a cafe with six permanent staff working on a Sunday, you will save about $30 an hour, which is a full-time wage for one person. So you might decide to have a well-earned day off and pay an additional employee to cover that shift or you could put an extra worker on on a Saturday night so you can provide a better service. In light of the high rates of youth unemployment in my region, it might also mean that you can take on a trainee or an apprentice.
In Far North Queensland, the proposed benefits for a small business have been welcomed. Will Nevile, from Wharf One, told the Cairns Post recently:
“It will certainly increase our ability to put on more people. In the current situation the consumer gets less amenity, staff get less work, the government gets less tax and businesses get less turnover. I fail to see a winner.”
In its submission to the Fair Work Commission, Pillow Talk managing director Heath Goddard said that the store generally caps hours worked by any given employee on a Sunday to five hours. The Cairns store is one that would likely benefit from being able to provide more hours of work to existing staff or take on new staff.
Dean Pollock, from the Discount Drug Store in Atherton, told the Fair Work Commission that he was considering ceasing his Sunday trading altogether as the wages were 'simply too expensive'.
Craig Squire, chef director of Ochre Restaurant and Catering, already pays his staff higher than the award rate. He says that their total wage bill as a percentage of turnover has increased by about four per cent in three years, and he is the only one who has not had a pay rise. This is an all too common scenario.
While penalty rates on Sundays are 'higher than is ideal', Craig points out that the biggest impact came from the Fair Work Act 2009, which introduced penalty rates for Saturdays. And I did not see any objection about that decision! For a mixed restaurant and catering business, Saturday is the busiest day with the highest cost for wages.
Interestingly, there has been a reduction in Saturday rates for the restaurant industry. About 18 months ago it went down from time and a half to time and a quarter. Where was the outrage from the unions then? I did not hear a word, not a whisper, from them.
I say that Fair Work's proposal is a step in the right direction. As the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry states:
“The modestly reduced Sunday rates still represent a decent wage, but one which is more affordable for small and family businesses.”
And that is what this is all about. This is all about small family businesses being able to trade at a time that their customers want them to trade and to be able to do it by employing more people and actually having a break for themselves. So I certainly oppose this motion before us today.