Feb 24, 2017

Nuance won’t cut it on penalty rates onslaught

The Fair Work Commission's attack on penalty rates will only reinforce Labor's narrative of a government hell-bent on attacking low-income earners.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

There's an awful lot of nuance around the Fair Work Commission's attack on penalty rates. The rationale of the commission, echoing the Productivity Commission, is that Sundays aren't so different from Saturday anymore, so why have an outdated, special Sunday penalty rate? But it also recognises that low-income earners will be screwed over by its decision and there needs to be sort of "transition". Then there is the nuance of the government insisting the decision is basically the fault of Bill Shorten because he initiated the penalty rates review when in government, and that the commission is the "independent umpire". And finally the nuance of Labor going to the trouble of preparing a response to the decision with "real people" affected by the decision, only to screw up the detail and embarrass themselves.

None of the nuance matters politically, and none of it matters economically. Money is fungible, and the rationale about Sundays versus Saturdays is irrelevant. The money a waitress earns on a public holiday or a shop assistant earns on a Sunday doesn't go into a special pot that dictates its expenditure. It's income -- and the decision, if implemented by employers, means a cut in income, for some of Australia's lowest paid, all on the promise that somehow there'll be more jobs and more hours. Basically, they'll have to work more for the same income, or make do with less.

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