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Penalty rates set to be a battlefield for July 2 election

With a July 2 election now set down, attention in the industrial relations sector has turned to the respective Party’s positions on penalty rates. With the Fair Work Commission closing in on a decision on penalty rates, which most commentators consider will potentially involve a reduction of Sunday penalty rates (usually double time) to the equivalent Saturday penalty rate (usually time and a half).  The proposed change is expected only to affect certain industries, such as the hospitality and retail industries.

It was widely reported that on 21 April, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten confirmed that he would stand by the decision of the Fair Work Commission on the penalty rates issue.

However, on 30 April 2016, Mr Shorten altered his position making the following statement regarding the penalty rates debate:

“Labor is the only Party you can trust to protect penalty rates. We’ve put in a submission to the review of penalty rates, supporting the retention of our penalty rates system. … 4.5 million of our fellow Australians rely upon penalty rates when they work the unsociable hours, they do the work that at times allows our community to have the quality of life that it enjoys from emergency services, right through the health system, right through to retail and hospitality. What we have said is that after the election, but before the review is concluded, if we are elected, my Government will intervene in the penalty rates case to make it very clear that the Government of Australia supports low-paid workers and that we will be supporting the proposition of retaining our penalty rates structure.”

It is clear that the question of what penalty rates should be applied to weekend work will be one of the key points of contention, from an industrial relations perspective, leading into the upcoming election.

The FWC is not expected to make a decision on this issue until after the election.

Lisa Aitken is an accredited specialist in workplace relations law and the principal of Aitken Legal, a law firm specialising in employment law for employers. The information in this column is intended as a guide only.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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