By Kylie Galbraith
MORE than 7000 retail workers in the New England electorate will lose up to $23 million a year – with millions lost in regional spending – if moves to cut penalty rates are successful.
Retail employees’ fears have been heightened by last month’s decision by the Federal Court to uphold a 25 per cent reduction in penalties for those in the hospitality industry.
Robert Tonkli, from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association NSW, is visiting regional centres, including Tamworth and Armidale, to brief retail employees about an ongoing review into retail penalty rates and expectations the matter will be considered by the Fair Work Commission next year.
He used the Tamworth visit to release a study commissioned by the association that shows the New England region would be more than $9 million worse off each year if retail penalty rates were cut or phased out entirely.
“The recent narrow debate from employers on penalty rates has been about the cost to business. It completely misses the untold story of the loss to local workers, local communities and local economies across regional NSW if rates are cut,” Mr Tonkli said.
“Penalty rates compensate people for working at unsociable times late at night, on weekends or on public holidays. Cut them and that money goes back to the business and, if it is not a local business, that money leaves the local community.”
Tamworth supermarket employee Michell Everitt works weekends to support her two children and is fearful the current review could threaten everything she’s worked so hard for.
Ms Everitt works every second weekend at Coles in Peel St to take advantage of the higher rates, even though it means time away from her teenage children.
She’s a single mum with a mortgage and said any reduction in penalties would leave an enormous hole – up to $200 a fortnight – in her budget.
She said she was already one of thousands who were worse off after federal changes to welfare payments for single mothers, which made her weekend shifts all the more important.
Mr Tonkli said employers who argued a wage reduction would make it possible to employ more staff or provide them with more hours were “missing the bigger picture”.
“It’s a short-sighted view,” Mr Tonkli said.
“If (a rate reduction) is successful then there will be a drop in disposable income and sales will be affected.
“We all know the first thing to go when people have less money in their pocket is that discretionary spending.”
He said retail workers made up about 12 per cent of the workforce in rural and regional NSW “so if they tighten their belts, the flow-on effect will hit local businesses and economies hard”.