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The cruelty of penalty rate cuts

How can Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sleep at night knowing the pay of 700,000 low-paid workers is about to be cut?

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Photo: Gladstone Observer

26 June 2017

Tania is 60 years old. Widowed for almost 40 years, as a single mother she's raised three children and now helps with the care of her eight grandchildren. Tania has worked at Spotlight in Wollongong for 21 years. She has never had a pay rise.

On 1 July her penalty rates will be cut.

In March, Tania was part of a delegation of workers who visited Parliament House to speak to politicians about the real impact of the penalty rate cuts.

The workers came to Canberra from across Australia, some, like Tania, were from the retail sector, and others worked in the hospitality and pharmacy sectors. They were all there to tell their stories to politicians they'd only ever seen on TV, if ever.

To keep her job, Tania has to work every second weekend. All the permanent staff at her store are rostered on rotating weekend shifts. While she doesn't have a choice whether to work weekends or not, the trade-off is that penalty rates ensure she can survive.

Tania earns less than $30,000 a year. The store where Tania works is not covered by a union-negotiated enterprise agreement, so she has remained on the lowest retail award for more than two decades.

In March, Tania told her story to senators Nick Xenophon, Jacquie Lambie, and Bob Katter, among others. She told them how much she earned and how she has to make a choice, every day, whether to buy petrol to be able to visit her three children and eight grandchildren or to buy food and keep the lights on.

She spoke about the things she has to sacrifice to stay employed: missing her grandkids' football games and dance concerts, missing precious time with her family on weekends because she has no choice but to work.

This week, Tania told us how she was preparing for the pay cut if it isn't stopped before 1 July.

"I already ration my petrol, I don't eat meat because I can't afford it, and I have an egg a day for my iron.
"I'm stressed out. I've got rego next month, plus I've just stopped my comprehensive car insurance and gone to bomb [third party] insurance. I've got rust in the car, but my son's going try to fix that for me.
"To cut the power bills I leave all lights off. I buy no expensive cleaning products. I've never smoked and I don't drink. I shop at Aldi because it's cheaper.
"My body is chucking it in, but I can't afford not to work. I will have to work until I'm 66-and-a-half years old.
"Sometimes I can't afford to go out and see friends. I've just had four family birthdays this month and then next month it starts all over again."

Is this the country we want? One that treats someone like Tania so poorly?

There are 700,000 working people in Australia like Tania and, make no mistake, the penalty rate cuts are going to be cruel for all of them. The sacrifice will be profound.

Right now, before Parliament is a bill that would stop these pay cuts.

The Turnbull government can keep Tania's lights on. They can ensure she can eat properly. There is only one vote needed in the House of Representatives for the penalty rate cuts to be blocked. They could prevent Tania from being worried about money at every moment of her life.
All across the country, people are outraged by the penalty rate cuts, the decision is deeply unpopular. Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Australians do not think they should be cut.

I wake everyday thinking about workers like Tania. How can Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sleep at night knowing the pay of 700,000 low-paid workers is about to be cut?

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