An offhand comment by Arthur Sinodinos on Insiders yesterday caught Ms Tips’ attention when the Industry Minister said Bill Shorten’s record as workplace minister was another example of the Labor leader’s hypocrisy — an accusation that forms the government’s main political strategy at the moment. Discussing Turnbull’s “sycophant” speech, Sinodinos said:

“Look, Barrie, what that speech was the Prime Minister framing Bill Shorten as someone who says one thing and does another. You go back through his career, whether it is support for company taxes, cuts at other times, the first workplace minister to actually have a reduction in penalty rates and awards …”

Sorry, what now? Firstly, it is not the Workplace Relations minister who sets penalty rates. That is the role of the Fair Work Commission, and both major parties have stated it should remain that way.

Shorten was minister for employment and workplace relations from December 14, 2011, to July 1, 2013, during which time the Fair Work award modernisation process was happening. The Fair Work Act incorporated several state-based awards and agreements into single awards setting the penalty rates for whole industries. As a result some states’ penalty rates rose for some working hours, while in other states penalty rates fell for those same hours. Notwithstanding the fact these changes were being driven by legislation that predated his time as minister, the claim just doesn’t stack up. Kevin Andrews was workplace relations minister during the introduction of the WorkChoices legislation, which predated Shorten’s tenure by some five years.

WorkChoices removed the No Disadvantage Test for individual agreements, allowing employers to slash penalty rates. According to Griffith University research: “In the period May–September 2006, some 76 per cent of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) abolished shift work loading, 68 per cent of AWAs abolished penalty rates and 52 per cent abolished overtime pay.”  

The most recent cut to penalty rates was a 25% reduction for some casual employees in restaurants on Sundays, which occurred in June 2014 under Shorten’s successor, Eric Abetz.

Peter Fray

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