Penalties adjusted to match changing workforce

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Eating, talking, people, Salamanca, James Squire, Hobart (Tom Wakefield)

By Strategic Partner, Tom O’Meara

The reduction in penalty rates and a significant movement from full to part-time workers in the Australian workforce may have no connection apart from being topical, February stories.

But what if they are connected?  What if part-time and casual workers have decided they only need to work Saturday, Sunday and public holidays to cover their lifestyle?

Why work four days a week when you can earn the equivalent in two days?  This certainly fits into the unintended outcome category, consistent with unrealistic decision making in the first place.

The bigger picture is really how did we get ourselves in such a mess that Sunday penalties were, and still are in many industries, up to 200 per cent for Sundays and 275 per cent for public holidays.

The decision by the Fair Work Commission has finally recognised enough is enough.

Truth or folklore tells us that the introduction of penalty rates was to discourage businesses from opening on a Sunday. However, somewhere down the track the argument changed to compensation for working unsocial hours (whatever that means) and topping up payments for lower paid workers.

Unfortunately, it was always going to end in tears as it is tough on people who have become dependent on an unsustainable, double your money, penalty rate, and now find themselves in retail positions dropping between $38 and $77 in Sunday pay.

The ball is now in the court of retailers and hospitality businesses, in particular, to now trade on Sundays. Not only will it bring to life our State’s CBD’s but it should also build the workforce.

Store and hospitality closures on Sundays and public holidays in Launceston, particularly on major event weekends, is embarrassing and a major frustration for City Prom and tourism groups.

As for the movement in the workforce, January ABS figures show there were 58,300 more part-time workers in January than last year and around 44,800 fewer full time workers.

Tasmanian figures show part-time employees jumped 5,800 to 89,100 compared with full time employees dropping by 4,600 to 150,200. While the trend is Australia wide, the disparity between Tasmania’s full time and part time employees is expanding faster than the rest of Australia.

Julian Sallabank, CEO of recruiting agency Ignite Services, said recently:

“Organisations should consider part-time arrangements because it can be a very effective way to get the skills you need in the business. Often, part-time workers can deliver higher productivity and better results than full time workers because their attention is more focused when they’re at work.”

This supports the discussion that part time work has made Australia a more competitive economy and many skilled workers are choosing to work part-time so they can spend more time with family, or pursuing hobbies.

Mr Sallabank backs this up with ABS figures which show that last year about 30 per cent of dads now take advantage of flexible work hours to look after children, compared to 16 per cent two years ago.

Ironically, the organisation responsible for the nation’s most inflexible working hours is none other than the Australian Tax Office.

As commentary in The Australian highlighted recently, ATO staff were simply needed for nine minutes more a day instead of leaving at 4.51pm on the dot. Just this small concession would result in an additional 90,000 working hours in the tax office, but evidently it was asking too much…


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