Finance Work ‘Give us penalty rates or take a pay cut’

‘Give us penalty rates or take a pay cut’

Malcolm Turnbull has blocked Bill Shorten's attempt in Parliament to reverse the cuts. Photo: AAP
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The last hope to save penalty rates is for the government to take action. On behalf of young Australians like me, I’m calling on our politicians to either reverse the decision or cut their own wages.

We saw on Monday the Turnbull government use its numbers to block Bill Shorten’s attempt to table a bill to overturn the Fair Work Commission’s decision.

Something must be done. Like so many young people, I have worked in hospitality for the better part of five years, and weekend and public holiday rates have been my saving grace.

Penalty rates have compensated me for giving up time on weekends and public holidays when I could be enjoying the company of my friends and loved ones.

Bill Shorten attempted to table a private member's bill to save penalty rates, but the Coalition voted to stop him. Photo: AAP
Bill Shorten attempted to table a private member’s bill to save penalty rates, but the Coalition voted to stop him. Photo: AAP

Critically, they have also given me the time to study. When I was at university, they allowed me to work 2-3 shifts a week rather than 4-5, and to devote the rest of the time to my degree.

While at uni, I worked more than one job and still only earned just above the minimum wage. Weekend rates were the difference between making my weekly budget or falling behind.

Now that I’ve graduated, I still work two jobs – one to pay the bills, rent and medical costs, and a second on the weekend to build a cushion of savings for when life goes pear-shaped.

The business lobby says times have changed. They’re right. In my lifetime, weekends went from being time for family, religious or sporting events to being almost exclusively for work.

And that’s not because I, my peers and my siblings ever wanted to work on the weekends. It’s because we have to. Given the choice, we’d much prefer to spend our weekends with friends and family.

One increasingly frustrating argument I’ve encountered in the past week is that most hospitality employees aren’t paid penalty rates anyway and so this cut doesn’t make a difference.

But the right response should have been to force businesses to abide by the rules, not punish everyone else. This argument just proves the stigma faced by our hospitality, retail and fast food workers.

All of our politicians – who themselves demand travel allowances and other top-ups to their huge base salaries – should vote to overturn the cuts.

If they refuse, if any politician supports stripping us of penalty rates, then they should sacrifice some of their own benefits.

For if politicians truly represent their constituents, if saving money for the average Australian is actually on the agenda, they should put their money where their mouths are and take a cut as well.

Emily Stokes is not a member of any political party.

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