More than half a million retail and hospitality workers could lose $80 million from their wages this year, and a further $27 million once penalty rates are cut further, according to a new report.
The report by Centre for Future Work was released ahead of the 10-day Easter and Anzac Day holiday period.
A spokesperson for the Shop, Distributed & Allies Union Western Australia said retail and fast food workers would receive smaller pay packets over the holidays because of the reduction in penalty rates.
“For many people working in these industries, every single dollar counts and any cut to pay can have a serious impact on personal and family budgets,” the spokesperson said.
“Our members give up a lot [of] social and family time to serve the public on Sundays and public holidays and they deserve to have that sacrifice recognised with appropriate compensation.”
The reduction in penalties for public holidays was implemented on 1 July, 2017 while the reduction in penalty rates for Sundays is still being phased in, with a third reduction to occur on 1 July.
Some workers face another reduction in 2020.
With the election exactly one month away, and the cut off for enrolment at 8pm tonight, the cuts to penalty rates are a significant issue for debate.
At a press conference last month, Bill Shorten said Labor would change the Fair Work Commission’s rules and reverse the cuts.
“It simply isn’t fair, nor sustainable, for economic confidence in this country, that an adult could work full time and be earning $18.93 an hour at the minimum wage before tax,” Mr Shorten said.
The SDA spokesperson said penalty rate cuts came because of the Fair Work Commission.
“The Fair Work Commission is supposed to be an independent umpire on industrial relations, however, the Coalition have thrown out any sense of independence and fairness by filling the Commission with 20 appointees in a row with employer backgrounds.
“They have essentially stacked the Fair Work Commission in favour of business and employers. If they were comfortable cutting the wages of retail and fast food workers it is not difficult to imagine them making further cuts, or turning their sights to other industries,” the spokesperson said.
Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan said penalty rates could be changed by government, so it was important for workers to be organised and active in securing their pay.
“Just as these arrangements can be legislated back, we know that the conservative governments in the future will legislate to cut them again, so what we want to see is organised workers in the workplace who are able to ensure, through their direct action, that they have these penalty rates forever,” he said.
According to Safe Work Australia, 40 per cent of employees in retail are under 25 years old while 19 per cent of all workers were under 25.
Only accommodation and food services has a higher proportion of young employees.
“Across retail, there are still young workers. At Woolworths for example, one third of their workers are under 21,” Mr Cullinan said.
“The impact on them of these cuts is substantial and the vast majority of workers in retail and fast food don’t have investment properties. The wages they earn from week to week pay for their food and pay for their rent and all the other necessities of life.
“It has a huge impact on them whether they’re older or younger, when their wages are cut in such a way,” he said.