Penalty rates decision a shot in the arm for small business

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) has welcomed the Federal Court’s judgment to uphold the Fair Work Commission decision on penalty rates.

The Federal Court has found the Fair Work Commission met its legal obligations through the exhaustive two-year process it undertook to reach a decision.

Unions representing hospitality and retail workers challenged the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce some penalty rates for hospitality, retail and fast-food workers.

But the court found no jurisdictional error in the commission’s February decision to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for full-time and part-time workers.

“Small-business operators will be relieved at this decision, which levels the playing field in competition against big business,” ABFEO Kate Carnell said.

“Big business and unions have made deals in the past through enterprise agreements which traded penalty rates for union membership and higher base rates.

“Small businesses don’t have the capacity to negotiate enterprise agreements and continue to grapple with the most complex award system in the world. People’s lifestyles and expectations have changed over the past 20 years. Fewer people go to church and many people want to work and shop on Sundays and public holidays. It’s a shame that unions are running a scare campaign against the penalty rates decision. Everyone should respect the decision of the independent umpire; otherwise the integrity of the system is undermined.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry also urged unions to accept the umpire’s decision.

“Now that the Federal Court has made its decision, employers should be able to get on with implementing these changes, and start offering longer opening hours and more shifts on Sundays,” chief executive James Pearson said.

The chamber estimates the commission’s decision will affect about 220,000 workers in retail, pharmacy, hospitality and fast food.

“We are talking about limited changes – for example, from double-time to time-and-three-quarters for Sunday work,” Pearson said.

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