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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4253


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (19:34): I rise to talk about the matter of penalty rates. This matter represents just how consistently the government continue to support the top end of town over the needs of all Australians. Earlier this week, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, introduced legislation to protect penalty rates and to protect the wages of working Australians, placing Labor values front and centre and standing in stark contrast with the out-of-touch Prime Minister. I'm proud to serve on a team that values retail workers and food and accommodation workers and wants to see the extra pay they receive for working weekends and holidays protected. I'm proud to serve on a team that's fighting for the wages of over 40,000 Tasmanians. The wages of those who rely upon penalty rates are not some luxury. Those wages are not the $7,000 that this out-of-touch government have voted to give themselves in tax cuts; they are a necessity and they can be as much as $77 a week for many. Unfortunately, the current government are so out of touch that they don't see the need to support Labor's bill. The government are more focused on an $80 billion handout to banks and big businesses than they are on the wages of Australians.

Penalty rates are scheduled to be cut again from 1 July, which is on Sunday. That means that, as soon as Sunday, workers who have relied upon the additional income they receive from working weekends will no longer be able to count on that income to pay their bills. Given that over 700,000 workers across the country are slated to have their pay cut and, given that inequality, part-time work and insecure work are on the rise, now is the time for the government to stop looking after their mates in the big banks and multinationals and start looking out for workers.

A Senate inquiry last year told us that penalty rates are not a luxury. It told us that many seek to work the unsociable hours required to obtain those rates because the rate of pay is higher during those hours and, to quote the Fair Work Commission, 'Many of these employees earn just enough to cover weekly living expenses.' In fact, more than 9,100 people in Denison working in retail, food and accommodation rely upon penalty rates to help them meet the cost of goods and services. It involves more than 8,500 workers in Bass, 7,200 in Lyons, 7,800 in Franklin and 7,200 workers in the electorate of Braddon. Mr Brett Whiteley, who once claimed to represent the Braddon electorate, stood by as the government failed time and time again to vote to protect penalty rates.

I'm proud to serve a party that represents workers and has an appreciation for the importance of penalty rates. I'm proud to back the candidate, Justine Keay, who will fight for the people of Braddon and will fight for the 7,200 workers relying on penalty rates in the electorate of Braddon. It's Labor that ensures we value all Australians and work to foster a more equal society for everyone. The government could join with Labor and legislate to protect penalty rates. The government could show that they're committed to workers and understand the value that penalty rates bring to between three per cent and four per cent of our workforce. They could show that they're on the side of the 75 economists and academics who, earlier this year, wrote:

While it is doubtful that lower penalty rates will result in any measurable increase in total employment in the retail and hospitality industries there is no doubt that this decision will reduce incomes for some of the most insecure and poorly paid workers in the economy.

It's just hard to understand at a time when inequality is one of the major threats that we face as a nation. When reducing penalty rates even hurts the economic growth the government claim to stand for, why is it that the government won't take the action needed to drive growth and stand up for workers? Why do the government continue to prioritise the top end of town? And why won't they join Labor in legislating to protect penalty rates? (Time expired)