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Issue #1770      March 22, 2017

Penalty rate stand at Webb Dock

Maritime Union (MUA) members at Melbourne’s Webb Dock are taking a stand against the erosion of penalty rates, with legal advice suggesting cuts may not be limited to hospitality and retail workers. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dug in on his decision to back the Fair Work Commission’s penalty rate changes.

MUA workers at Webb Dock – united against cuts to penalty rates.

Asked by Neil Mitchell on 3AW whether the Prime Minister supported the cuts to penalty rates or not, Turnbull said: “Well we do support it, Neil, and I’ve been clear about that.”

MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray said the penalty rate decision was a line in the sand for working men and women. “As a result of the FWC decision, backed in by the prime minister, up to 700,000 Australians will be $77 per week worse off and workers will be forced to do more hours for the same pay,” Bray said.

“And we all know this is the thin edge of the wedge – if the Turnbull government is successful in cutting wages in retail and hospitality, they will then come after every other worker to cut their take home pay as well.

“That’s why Webb Dock members are taking their stand and will not endorse a new EBA with their employer, LINX, until this matter is addressed.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has received independent legal advice from law firm Maurice Blackburn that shows the FWC decision opens the door to penalty rate cuts for workers in other sectors.

“We now know that all workers who receive penalty rates and work unsociable hours are at risk of having their penalty rates and public holiday pay cut,” ACTU president Ged Kearney said.

“The independent legal advice we received on the FWC penalty rate decision said nurses, teachers, community, disability, social, and transport workers, among many others, are also at risk of losing their penalty rates.

The FWC said hospitality and retail were different to other award-dependent sectors, however the advice the ACTU has received confirms this doesn’t prevent penalty rates from being cut in other sectors.

Ms Kearney said that the safety net is broken and must be immediately strengthened to ensure no Australian worker sees their pay go backwards.

“The Turnbull government opposes penalty rates and won’t protect them even though it has the chance, which is why Australian unions will not stop campaigning until this decision is overturned with legislation that protects penalty rates and other conditions for workers.”

Principal in Employment Law at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Giri Sivaraman said: “Whilst the FWC went to great pains to state they were only considering the hospitality and retails awards, in reality their findings could be applied to many other industries.

“In our view, this decision leaves the door wide open for any industry that works weekends and public holidays to also be hit with the same penalty rate cuts that will soon affect retail and hospitality workers.

“The Commission based its decision on the basis that consumers now expect services to be available outside of ‘normal hours’. In our view however, based on this reasoning there is now no barrier to penalty rate cuts being extended to any other industry that also has to work weekends or public holidays, including nursing and health care, transport, security, cleaning services, construction, clerical workers, laundry services, hair and beauty industries, trainers, mining and factories.”

Many workers in these industries, like retail and hospitality workers, are reliant on penalty rates to make ends meet. A broadening of penalty rates cuts to these other industries will be a significant hit for workers right around Australia.

Next article – Constitution focus of regional dialogue

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