WAGGA Business Chamber president Tim Rose has ratcheted up the pressure on Riverina MP Michael McCormack to support cuts to weekend penalty rates, while Labor has slammed the government as the Christmas Grinch who wants to rob blue-collar workers.
It’s foreshadowed a contentious issue for Mr McCormack in the lead-up to the next election, with all parties setting themselves up for a political brawl in the wake of new Productivity Commission recommendations.
But the MP on Tuesday would not be drawn into a corner on industrial relations, declaring any move to bring Sunday double time rates into line with Saturday’s time-and-a-half payments would require wide consultation – including with unions.
“There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before there are any changes to penalty rates on a Sunday,” Mr McCormack said.
“I don’t want to do anything that supports fear-mongering in the Riverina.”
Asked whether he personally supported cuts to Sunday rates, Mr McCormack was non-committal.
“I’m not going to be drawn on it,” he said.
The business chamber has long pressed for penalty rate changes, challenging the government to show courage on winding back “outdated” workplace structures.
“I really hope the government shows some leadership on this,” Mr Rose said.
“The concept of a Monday to Friday working week is just not as relevant as it once was; we’re in an economy that is increasingly 24/7. We think (cutting penalty rates) will be good for business and jobs.”
Community leaders this year openly debated the changing face of Wagga’s retail sector, as internet shopping continues to challenge Wagga’s “traditional” main street precinct.
Mr Rose said it was “self-defeating” if shops, cafes and restaurants could not open on a weekend.
“I think there will be a minority of people who don’t support (changes) … but the overall benefits for the economy will be far greater,” he said.
Riverina Labor secretary Tim Kurylowicz warned that the government had already made up its mind.
“They’ve set up a study that’s found the results they wanted,” he said.
“The government needs to spell out exactly what changes they want to make to industrial relations before the next election. My fear is that this is just the thin edge of the wedge.
“If I was a teacher, nurse or a police officer, I would be very worried.”
One Wagga man who works on Sunday as a barista, Daniel Robinson, said cutting penalty rates would be unfair.
“Weekends are part of the Australian lifestyle,” he said. “If you’re going to give up your weekend, you should be compensated.
“If I didn’t get paid extra to work on the weekend, I probably wouldn’t do it.”
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