The Productivity Commission’s recommendation to cut double-time pay on Sundays could see many retail and hospitality workers lose as much as half their income.
Sunday penalty rates that aren’t included as overtime or shift work could be set at Saturday rates for hospitality, entertainment, retail, restaurants and cafes.
The proposal has been slammed by the ACTU, Greens and Labor, saying the measure is a wage cut for the lowest paid workers in the country.
Neos Kosmos spoke to some of those at the sharp end of the issue. Sia Psicharis, a Melbourne beauty salon owner, believes that such decisions work best when three important factors are considered at once: staff, business and clients.
“We pay workers double, but we can’t charge the client twice, leaving no room for the business to absorb such a cost, especially with the rise of online discounting service coupons.”
“We’re better off not doing treatments on Sunday because we simply can’t afford it,” she adds.
Sofia Karambetsos, who manages a nut shop, agrees with the pay being on one level throughout the whole week except for public holidays.
“We have worked Sundays all our business life and we pay a flat rate, which is above award rates,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“It has become the norm to work on Sunday within the hospitality industry. It’s part of the Australian culture.”
However, barista Andreas Andriakopoulos disagrees with the proposal. For him, living in a progressive society means the state has to take good care of its weakest citizens. “Employees who have to work on Sundays spend this day away from their families, which is why I think the existing penalties should not be abolished.”
Meanwhile, the commission suggests making temporary changes to the minimum wage and rewards to be reviewed only when necessary rather than every four years.
“I spent five years without a raise at a previous job, whilst assuming more and more responsibilities,” says Roula Pappas, who now works as a store manager.
“There are many cafes and clothing store owners who won’t go that extra mile to reward their hard-working employees if they are not compelled to by the law.”
For students like Yolantha Crayes, who are only permitted to work 20 hours a week, penalty rates are a big help. “My family doesn’t have the means to support me and I rely on weekend pay rates to pay my bills,” she says.
The report also proposes amending unfair dismissal laws, ensuring employees can receive compensation only where there is no evidence of underperformance or misconduct.
Petra Katrakis, recently-arrived from Greece, is bemused by the many cases of migrant exploitation she has come across during her two years in Australia.
“I’ve seen bosses promising to hire desperate people, give them some cash in hand the first week, stall their payments and fire them within a month.
“People wanting to avoid compensation and giving raises could easily claim an employee isn’t reliable,” she adds.
The Productivity Commission has also recommended allocating more resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman to investigate employers suspected of underpaying migrant workers.
Kitchen worker Mario Petrou says it’s about time. “Do you know how many migrants like myself are being paid $6 an hour just because ‘this is what we’d get back where we came from’?”
Productivity Commission Chair Peter Harris last addressed the committee on Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) on 14 August. His draft recommendations are still out for consultation.