Election 2016: Labor pays penalty for dodgy rate position

21-08-2018 by admin

Putting on a brave face: under pressure Opposition Leader Bill Shorten meets with Nino, during a street walk with ALP candidate for Corangamite, Libby Coker in Geelong on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen ​Latest from Federal Election 2016Negative gearing politics invades the football groundUnions turn on Shorten over penalties 

What’s the penalty rate for political dissembling during an election campaign? Bill Shorten and his industrial relations spokesman, Brendan O’Connor may be about to pay it. An each-way bet on weekend penalty rates could invite fire from each way as well.

The workers’ party has refused to offer an iron-clad guarantee that weekend penalty rates would not be cut under a Shorten government. This, despite Labor’s decision to campaign on the issue as a key policy difference.

Labor’s position may be procedurally sound but so what? This is an election campaign where binary choices rule the roost and where nuance bespeaks weakness feeling more like political shiftiness than serious intent.

Labor’s policy suffers this from very affliction. Its headline statement communicates conviction via implacable opposition to reducing the Sunday rate to equal Saturday, but the fine print carries the caveat that the Fair Work Commission could so order them cut, without any legislative response even if Labor were elected.

The FWC may well consign the more generous Sunday rate for hospitality and retail to the dustbin. Some weeks back, Shorten had raised eyebrows when he said Labor believed weekend penalties should stay, but also conceded that Labor would respect the umpire’s decision. In truth, Labor believes the tribunal will retain the Sunday rate because it is required to consider such things as the unsociability of some hours.

Labor set up the FWC so can hardly propose to flatly disrespect it. It is also relevant that Labor made a submission to the wage case in question, arguing forcefully for the retention of the Sunday rate in the interests of countless Sunday employees who rely on the extra bread from waiting tables to put bread on their own tables.

The government’s argument, and that of employers, is that lower Sunday rates would see many more jobs created as businesses choose to trade and expand into an under-tapped Sunday market.

The FWC is weighing these respective claims and might just be persuaded by the employers’ case.

Politically, Labor’s problem is that it is not clear which it would protect first in the event of its submission being rejected: disadvantaged workers handed a pay cut (certainly a rarity), or the industrial umpire – or put more bluntly, its constituents or the system.

Speaking after O’Connor stumbled through an interview with Melbourne radio’s Neil Mitchell managing only to make Labor’s position more confusing, Shorten attempted to clarify.

His answer is to say that if Labor formed a government after July 2, it would use that added authority to petition the FWC to retain Sunday penalties.

Unions are unconvinced and so too, no doubt, are Sunday employees.

For the Greens party, nipping at Labor’s left flank, this is manna from heaven. Which is why it has promised to legislate to retain higher Sunday pay.

For Shorten, that’s a penalty rate to be paid in votes.

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