In the month since the Fair Work Commission handed down its decision on penalty rates, it seems Labor can talk about little else, and — apart from jabbing Bill Shorten’s record as general secretary of the Australian Workers Union — the Coalition would rather talk about anything else. But Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was not short of words on the subject when fronting a press conference in the aftermath of the decision, back on February 23:

“I am very disappointed that the unions and the Labor Party are already indulging in a scare campaign. The emails that I am receiving, state: ‘Sunday penalty rates have been abolished’. That is an absolute disgrace, and they should be ashamed of themselves for going out and instigating such a scare campaign. Sunday penalty rates stay in place … I’ve also already started receiving emails in relation to the fact that nurses and emergency services are affected. I can confirm that they are not. The Fair Work Commission, in its decision, clearly states that they have no intention of this decision flowing on anywhere else. So anybody who today stands up and says that nurses and emergency services workers will be affected — they are blatantly misleading you.”

However, a freedom of information request regarding those emails reveals it may not be quite the full-scale assault on Cash’s inbox that was implied. In response to Crikey‘s request, the minister’s office released five emails they had received regarding the decision. At 9.13am an email opens with “I have just read on the ABC news website that penalties rates for hospitality, retail and fast food works has been abolished”. The writer closes by mentioning they are a nurse and asking “do you and your government have nurses in your sights to begin legislating to reduce our penalty rates.” Another nurse emails at 11.34am to say “I know you buggers on the right of politics will move on us in the future.”

A further three emails between 11.43am and 12.10pm are clearly the product of a campaign of some sort, with the body of the text repeating the Australian Council of Trade Unions oft-used slogan “Australian workers need a pay rise, not a pay cut”. The body of the email in each case is pro-forma, trotting out the same stats related to the cut, interspersed with commentary from the senders, which ranges from personal — “thanks for making me and my family suffer even further” — to (ahem) slightly more colourful — “YOU HAVE KILLED AUSTRALIA.”

So — the nurses express concern, but don’t think the decision affected them, one person used “abolish” and no one mentioned emergency services. Maybe not quite the scare campaign.

Peter Fray

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