Penalty rate argument hits fever pitch
WEEKEND penalty rates are set to be slashed in South Australia’s retail sector after a landmark agreement between the shop assistants’ union and Business SA.
In a deal that will see the end of Saturday penalties and the halving of those paid on Sundays, retail workers will be offered higher base rates of pay and improved conditions.
These include the right to refuse weekend work on Sundays and public holidays.
Sources have confirmed the breakthrough to The Advertiser and it is understood it came about after the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association approached Business SA, which represents the retail industry as well as other small business in South Australia.
SDA Secretary Peter Malinauskas hailed the deal as a breakthrough for industrial relations in the SA retail industry, saying it represented how IR should work, with unions negotiating with business to deliver outcomes that suited both employees and employers.
“The SDA has now come to a sensible alternative with Business SA to allow small retailers to easily approach the issue of penalty rates without reducing them in modern awards altogether, which would result in a pay cut for thousands of workers,” he said.
“We understand how important it is to strengthen our economy and create local jobs in SA but we should never do that at the expense of the wages and conditions of working people.”
The burden of weekend penalty rates has long been seen as a disincentive to small retailers opening longer or staying open on weekends and it is hoped the deal will stimulate the struggling retail sector, while also generating more economic activity and potentially creating more retail jobs.
The template agreement signed between the union and Business SA can be adopted by small businesses if agreed to by employees, and would apply to about two-thirds of the state’s 60,000 retail workers in small and medium-sized businesses.
It reduces penalty rates for Sundays from a 100 per cent loading to 50 per cent, cuts public holiday rates from 150 per cent to 100 cent, and abolishes penalty rates on Saturdays and weekday evenings.
In exchange, workers will receive a higher base wage, a guaranteed annual pay rise of 3 per cent, and an unprecedented right to refuse to work on Sundays and public holidays. It also gives permanent workers the right to every second weekend off.
For a full-time shop assistant, the base rate of pay would jump by 8 per cent from $703.90 a week to $760 a week.
At workplace level, the deal would still require signed agreements to ratified by the Fair Work Commission.
“If business wants to make changes to penalty rates, then employers should negotiate an agreement using enterprise bargaining in the same way the SDA has been negotiating with employers over two decades,” Mr Malinauskas said.
He said the deal would provide employees “significantly higher base rates of pay, guaranteed yearly decent pay rises and better breaks and rostering provisions”.
“While the agreement is 100 per cent voluntary, the SDA is hopeful local retail businesses will take up this opportunity to have a proper workplace agreement that reflects the specific needs of their business and their employees,” he said.
The national Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said that the deal could be replicated across Australia.