Is there 'masses of evidence' to support penalty rate cuts?

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(Original cartoon courtesy of cartoonmick.wordpress.com)

If the government really cared about small business, they would introduce subsidies rather than cutting the wages of Australia's lowest paid workers, writes Peter Wicks.

MALCOLM TURNBULL tells us all that there is "masses of evidence" to support the annihilation of Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality staff.

Realistically, we all know there will be masses of conflicting evidence to go along with it, but I for one am pleased that Turnbull is basing his government’s direction on “masses of evidence” and not an ideological position — and I hope it’s a trend that continues in other areas.

Carbon pricing and emissions trading schemes, for example.

I’d like to see Turnbull implement policy based on the overwhelming masses of evidence available. Hell, even the recommendations of their own review would be nice rather than the ridiculous ideological position his party holds now.

Or what about coal and energy?

Perhaps if Turnbull went with the masses of evidence that indicate the whole idea of "clean coal" has all the probability of a fragrant turd, it would be a healthy start. Instead, we have the Turnbull Government actually considering investing taxpayer dollars in a hare-brained scheme that no other sucker would put a dime into: developing "clean coal" fired power stations. Not that this is ideological, of course.

The Coalition's message on penalty rates is a confused one at best, which is probably why they are leaving the tough sell to their new Coalition partner, Pauline Hanson, to debate. This frees up Turnbull to focus on taking cheap shots at Shorten about not backing the umpire.

The gist of the argument is that unionised retailers that have negotiated enterprise bargain agreements (EBA’s) with their workers, pay their staff lower rates on Sunday and make it impossible for small businesses to compete.

This all sounds fair enough until you actually stop and think about the logic behind it.

If having a unionised workforce meant you paid lower wages, then wouldn’t every small business want their staff unionised? Why would small business be so opposed to unions if they lowered the cost of business?

The reality is that workers on an EBA have an agreement to forgo penalty rates in favour of being paid above award hourly rates. So while the Ipswich fish and chip shop may pay an extra few dollars an hour in wages on a Sunday, the McDonalds next door pays a couple of bucks extra an hour to staff Monday through to Friday. But you won’t hear Hanson or Turnbull talking about that.

As for the myth of trickle-down economics that the Coalition keep referring to, all the evidence points the other way. In Australia, business sector profits and CEO salaries are on the rise, yet wages growth is declining. Business is pocketing the extra profits while the worker gets left behind financially and the workforce is casualised.

Where I do agree with the Coalition, however, is the idea of helping small business in their hour of need — although I wonder if this is indeed that hour.

Only a week ago, Scott Morrison was patting himself on the back and talking up the government economic performance after better than expected economic figures were released. One of the areas with a marked improvement was consumer spending. So if consumer spending is up and the retail sector is supposedly struggling, then where exactly are we to believe these consumers are spending their money?

Penalty rates are not a new invention. Businesses who haven’t planned ahead for existing wage structures are businesses that have planned to fail. Why should businesses that plan to fail to be bailed out by staff?

I know some small businesses are doing it tough, particularly in regional communities, however, I’m equally sure that asking the lowest paid workers on the tax scale to subsidise them is certainly not the correct or the fair approach. I mean let’s be clear, by transferring the money from the workers pocket to the businesses coffers, subsidising the boss is exactly what we are asking of the workers.

Perhaps if the government is so keen to see these businesses open on Sundays or subsidised, they could offer an incentive to small business instead of planning to hand $50 billion to the big end of town in the form of tax cuts.

Despite what some think, most politicians work exceptionally long hours, most often attending events on weekends and evenings. This is why politicians are paid handsomely for their efforts and the extra hours that are expected of them. However, it would seem many politicians like Malcolm Turnbull and Pauline Hanson think that hospitality and retail workers should do the extra hours for peanuts.

This is one of the reasons people believe politicians are out of touch.

The decision to sacrifice the standard of living of our lowest paid workers at the altar of greed is something we all need to fight, because at the moment, while it may just be hospitality and retail workers, your industry could be next.

Peter Wicks is a former NSW ALP candidate. You can follow him on Twitter @madwixxy.

Cartoon courtesy of cartoonmick.wordpress.com.

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