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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4724

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (10:41): I am pleased to rise to stand on this important motion. I know that everyone on this side of the chamber believes that Australian workers should be able to lead a decent life, sustained by a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, and to have working conditions that allow for the building of a life with family and friends: to plan your finances, to spend time together and to build the things that matter in a good life—health, financial security, family and friends. The motion before the House reminds us of what a working life supports: that balance between home and work that allows for the formation of those family units—whatever they look like—and community networks that form the basis of a cohesive society.

When you work unusual and changing hours, a price is paid in lost time with family and friends, and penalty rates are one way that the price is shared between the worker, who pays the price, and business and consumers who benefit from it. Penalty rates are something that for over 100 years we recognised should apply in jobs and workplaces. They share that price out so it is not just paid by the worker. They have been examined, inquired into, tested by economists, argued about, negotiated, measured by statisticians, arbitrated by tribunals and so on for longer than taxation has existed in this country. Opposition to these rates is as perennial as the argument to support them.

I have a very pragmatic view. I believe that penalty rates are a genuine reflection of what Australian society expects as compensation for people who have to work at times when others are not expected to. We know that historically the opposition has not been a strong supporter of penalty rates. We have seen what they did with Work Choices, we have well and truly seen the ripping away of overtime and penalty rates and we have heard statements from the opposition since that time that they would go down that path again. I acknowledge that they are backing away a little in their rhetoric at the moment, but one can always expect them to revert to type.

If they did that—if they were in government again and did that—they would remove between nine and 11 per cent of the weekly take-home wages of people working in the accommodation and food sectors in my electorate. Similarly, they would reduce about seven per cent of the weekly take-home pay for people working in the retail sector. Of those people working in hospitality, 72 per cent are low-paid workers who work on weekends and on shifts, and in the food and accommodation industries it is 56 per cent—all heavily reliant on penalty rates for their family budgets. And I would have to say that there is not a lot of fat in those family budgets.

I read the economic data—the ABS figures and so on—and I have seen the analysis of costs and the share of wages and profits in those industries, and there is simply not a case to remove penalty rates. Employment has grown in these sectors, and the highest growth has been in small business. For six years, the net price of labour in those industries has risen by a mere 0.8 per cent, whereas income and expenditure on other items for small business in these sectors has risen from anything between eight and 25 per cent. Gross wages, including penalty rates, have not been a problem, but the loss of those penalty rates would be a major problem.

I have doorknocked tens of thousands of houses in my electorate—over 70,000 in total—but redistribution has moved about 40,000 of them into a neighbouring electorate. At least 30,000 of those houses are in my electorate, so I have a very good idea about the everyday lives of those people. I wonder at the thinking of those who would even consider the wiping out of penalty rates. How do they think the typical hospitality and retail and food service worker are going to get by if they lose up to 11 per cent of their weekly wage? If their children are at school from Monday to Friday, where is their weekend child care when they are working weekend shifts and how much does it cost? Where is their weekend or late-night public transport? When and where do they get quality time with their family and friends? What are irregular hours of shiftwork doing to their health and control of their lives?

These are real-life questions about the type of life the typical worker would have to face if penalty rates were lost and these are questions that we, as parliamentarians, must be mindful of. It does not need much spelling out: the removal of penalty rates would be a tragedy for many of the families and workers in my electorate, and I commend the resolution to the House.