The hotel and tourism sector offers unparalleled opportunities for growth, but the current award conditions work against both hospitality businesses and workers, said Martin Ferguson, chair of Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA).

The Fair Work Commission has wrapped up hearings into the review of the Hospitality award, with its final decision due in mid-2016. The Australian Hotels Associations (AHA) is calling for Fair Work to follow the lead of the Productivity Commission and recommend that Sunday penalty rates be amended to match those paid to staff members working on Saturdays. It’s also pushing for a reduction of penalty rates paid on public holidays and has recommended that the terminology change from ‘penalty rate’ to ‘additional remuneration.’

“…The term ‘penalty rate’ or ‘penalty’ implies punishment, when in fact they are loadings on standard rates,” Ferguson wrote, in an opinion piece sent to the media.

AHA is also asking for greater flexibility in part-time work conditions, enabling more workers to be employed under part-time contracts rather than casual arrangements.

Ferguson is calling on the unions to accept the Fair Work Commission’s findings, and stop “politicking”.

“The FWC has concluded hearings into the review of the Hospitality award, and is scheduled to make a decision in the middle of the year, but already the unions are indicating that they will not accept the umpire’s decision if the Commission agrees to reform penalty rates and working conditions, which were established in the 1950s and are no longer relevant to today’s work environment,” he said.

Ferguson said the current penalty rates scheme is out of date and not reflective of the attitudes of modern day workers.


“It has been evident for many years that current awards do not reflect the modern working environment. The idea that Sundays and public holidays are sacrosanct and need to attract punitive penalty rates simply doesn’t stack up, when a large number of workers do not see much difference between working on a Saturday or a Sunday, or even on a public holiday,” he said.

Ferguson referred to a survey conducted by Spot Jobs and Fairfax Media which found that 710 out of 1,117 respondents said they’d work on Sundays and public holidays if they were paid the same rate as a Saturday shift.

“We support workers being remunerated extra for working on weekends and public holidays, but the compensation needs to be sensible, otherwise businesses just close or reduce hours. The unions need to explain how a worker not earning anything is better off than a worker earning a reasonable wage with a realistic loading?” he said.

“If the unions are serious about benefiting their members, they need to make an unequivocal commitment to accepting the judgments of the Fair Work Commission.

“We have made strong submissions to the Commission over the past year about the potential for employment growth and improved working conditions for part-time workers if the award was reformed. We believe that it is time the unions stopped using workers as political pawns and let the Fair Work Commission make their judgements on the reform process without threats of retaliation if the decisions don’t go their way.”

In October last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that over time, Australia will see a move to a "more flexible workplace", noting that it was imperative to get the support of workers and unions.

“… Any reform has got to be able to demonstrate that people are certainly not going to be worse off and, overall ideally in net terms, better off,” he said.

However, the government neglected to make a submission to the review, with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash telling The Australian “The government’s very firm view is that penalty rates should continue to be set by the independent Fair Work Commission and not the government. The government has no plans to change these arrangements.”

Labor, on the other hand, did make a submission which opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said “makes clear what the community already knows — only Labor will defend workers from attacks on penalty rates.”


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