Sunday, February 26, 2017

Labor and Greens – Penalty Rate Cuts Must not Affect Take Home Pay

Labor will push ahead this week with a bill preventing penalty rate cuts that reduce take-home pay. However crossbench senators oppose moves by Labor and the Greens that they say interfere with the independence of the industrial umpire.

Nick Xenophon told Guardian Australia on Sunday that he would consider Labor’s proposal to require benefits to offset cuts to penalty rates but he believed it was a “mistake” to override the independence of the Fair Work Commission.

As politicians prepare for a busy sitting week in Canberra, the government has signalled it will continue to lobby the crossbench to pass its omnibus welfare bill, currently before the lower house and facing opposition from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team in the Senate.

Cut to penalty rates will galvanise the left and send a shiver through Coalition

Senate estimates hearings throughout the week will probe the whole operation of government, with Labor seeking answers on Australia Post executive salaries, pension and welfare cuts and the United States refugee deal.

On Thursday the Fair Work Commission decided to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates by up to 50% in the retail, pharmacy, hospitality, and fast food industries.

On Friday the Greens responded with a bill to lock penalty rates in at 2017 levels, overriding the cut, and on Monday Labor will give notice of its own bill to protect penalty rates.

Labor believes the bill, if legislated before the FWC finalises the transitional arrangements and orders, will effectively prevent the decision from taking effect by requiring that penalty rate cuts cannot result in a cut in take home pay.

On Friday senator Jacqui Lambie bolstered those efforts to protect penalty rates, saying there was “no way” she could support the Sunday penalty rate cut.

“Apart from the fact that the proposed decrease in Sunday penalty rates will hit Tasmanian battlers the hardest … the extra money made by workers on a Sunday through penalty rates very quickly finds its way back into the local economy and small business community,” she said.

Xenophon – who introduced a bill to lower penalty rates for small businesses in 2012 – said that he now recognised that legislating rates was “the wrong approach”.

“I need to see the [Labor] legislation but as a general principle it is a mistake to legislatively override the independence of the Fair Work Commission, given its principles.”

Xenophon said the commission was still considering an adequate phase-in, which could last up to five years, to minimise negative impacts on workers.

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