Students seek help as penalty rate cuts hurt

By Emma McQuade and Ashlen Wood

Students hit by cuts to hospitality and retail penalty pay rates are seeking urgent financial guidance through Curtin University.

Unions lost their bid to overturn the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates on Wednesday, leaving thousands of Australian students struggling.

The Federal Court found the commission satisfied its legal obligations when the decision was made to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates in February.

Curtin Guild president Liam O’Neill said the number of students affected by the cuts requiring financial advice had increased.


Retail workers are feeling the pinch. Photo: Ashlen Wood.

“We’ve had plenty of students come in concerned about what this means for them, particularly in regards to their financial security,” he said.

Curtin University’s Student Guild had a financial counsellor on campus who has been assisting a number of students with the additional budget stress many of them now found themselves in.

“Universities Australia research shows that two thirds of students live below the poverty line,” Mr O’Neill said.

“This decision will only exacerbate that.”

United Voice WA assistant secretary Karma Lord said many workers in the hospitality industry were projected to lose up to a fifth of their annual income.

“We are extremely disappointed with the decision on our appeal in the Federal Court and believe they have made a flawed decision that will see many Australian’s struggle to make ends meet,” Ms Lord said.

TAFE and university students were among many young Australians feeling the pinch.

Hospitality worker Kaitlyn Thompson, who is studying nursing, described the outcome as “saddening” for young Australian workers.


Kaitlyn Thompson works two jobs as well as studying to be a nurse. Photo: Ashlen Wood.

“I don’t get any assistance from the government, this is my second job, I am also a disability carer,” she said.

“I’m trying to study and keep myself afloat, but also try and learn so that I can be the best nurse I can be.

“Not having the penalty rate adds that little bit more stress.”

Master Grocers Australia Independent Retailers chief executive Jos de Bruin said the new penalty rates had already been introduced and would reduce gradually over the next few years to 50 per cent on Sunday.

Ms Lord said United Voice was encouraging members to tell employers the cuts were unfair and undeserved.

“Australia needs a pay rise, not a pay cut,” she said.

“We need wage growth, more money in the economy and increased business confidence.

“This decision is a bad outcome for everyone.”