WITH possible penalty rate caps dominating conversation in retail and hospitality circles, New England MP Barnaby Joyce remains non-committal, saying both sides of the argument deserve a hearing.
Debate has raged since the Productivity Commission released its final report into Australia’s workplace relations system just before Christmas.
It recommended Sunday penalty rates for cafe, restaurant, entertainment and retail workers be lowered to the same level as Saturday penalty rates, while advocating the retention of penalty rates for public holidays.
Mr Joyce said it would be a discussion to be had by Fair Work Australia as an independent arbiter on the issue and said cabinet did not have a position yet.
“All we can really show is the two sides of the coin here. Obviously, people who are on penalty rates on the weekends and are employed have a reason to be looked after,” he said.
“On the business side of things, we need to make sure they have the capacity to be open and make a dollar.”
Mr Joyce had spoken with businesses in Tamworth that were eager to trade on Sunday but had found the current rates were too high.
“We have areas, for instance, where coffee shops in this town (Tamworth) say ‘we want to open on Sunday, we have people who want to work on Sunday, we’ve got people who want to have coffee on Sunday, but the figures just don’t stack up if these are the rates we have to pay’,” he said.
The union for retail, fast food and warehouse workers, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, said the New England electorate would face a loss of $7.3 million of disposable income if Sunday penalty rates were cut.
“The question is, which is being asked by the productivity commission, are the penalty rates on Sunday supposed to be that much different to the penalty rates on Saturday?” Mr Joyce said.
“The decision, if one was to be made, will be made by Fair Work Australia as an independent arbiter of the matter.”
Mr Joyce said any decision made regarding penalty rates would ensure “people are properly rewarded for working when others don’t want to, which is the weekend”.