Unions continue penalty rate cuts fight

Contributed from Victoria

As July 1 approaches, so does the day when penalty rates come to an end for hundreds of thousands of Australians.

Unions have no other choice but to fight it all the way to the line and to continue to do so, even if it comes into effect. In the meantime, United Voice, the union whose members form a large part of those affected, has launched a legal bid last Friday, in a bid to have the cut stopped.

“We are compelled to take this legal step,” said Jo-anne Schofield, national secretary of the United Voice union. Pause

“The Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut pay is significant. It symbolises a turning away from a long-held principle that has guided industrial law in this country for over a century – that the needs of workers should be placed on an equal footing with business and economic interests.”

Documents filed in the Federal Court of Australia allege the Fair Work Commission, misunderstood or failed in its duties under the Fair Work Act, to ensure award rates were “fair and relevant,” by construing “relevant” as meaning suited to contemporary circumstances.

It is also alleged the commission failed to consider, the living standards of low-paid workers, wrongly claiming this consideration was best addressed in setting minimum wage rates instead.

With the cuts due to start taking effect from next weekend, United Voice  launched a bid last Friday, for a fast-tracked hearing and judicial review of the decision.

Another seriously affected union, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, has  launched its own bid for a judicial review on behalf of retail and fast-food workers.

Employer organisations have taken up the cause of cutting penalty rates in a big way, suggesting that this is only part of a campaign to reduce wages all round. It means that if the penalty rate cuts become a fixed feature on the Australian working landscape, they will lead to other cuts. Nor will this be confined to the hospitality and retail industries.

In this scenario, the consequence must be for living standards to fall substantially and this will hurt the economy, not to mention the quality of life for the majority of the population.

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