‘We don’t care if you survive’: Young workers left feeling jilted over penalty rates move

Unsurprisingly, the move to reduce Sunday and public holiday penalties for those working in the retail, fast-food and hospitality industries has not been well received by the employees themselves.

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After July, when the changes are expected to kick in, a casual retail employee on the minimum wage over the age of 18 classified as a level one employee – the lowest grade possible – who would have earned approximately $35 an hour prior to the amendments, will instead make around $30.63 an hour. 

For a six-hour working day this equates to $26.22 less each Sunday, or potentially $104.88 less a month.

Now, many of those affected by the upcoming changes have been left scratching their heads as to how they will make ends meet come July.

“Penalty rates can literally be the difference between paying rent and/or buying food for retail workers,” Daile Kelleher, the State Retail Manager for St Vincent de Paul Society in Queensland, wrote on Twitter.

Penalty rates can literally be the difference between paying rent and/or buying food for retail workers.

— Daile Kelleher (@DaileKelleher) February 23, 2017

“Workers who are often supporting a family or putting themselves through university or study survive off penalty rates,” she said.

Cutting penalty rates is giving the message to these workers that we don’t care if you can survive or not.

— Daile Kelleher (@DaileKelleher) February 23, 2017

Former retail worker Sharon McClafferty said penalty rates were the difference between her being able to study or not.

Without #penaltyrates I would not have been able to stay in university. David Jones Sunday shift was how I paid rent. It was a win:win

— Sharon McClafferty (@SharonsNetwork) February 23, 2017

While President of the Fair Work Commission Iain Ross argued that the cuts reflected that “the extent of the disutility [of working Sundays] is much less than in times past”, student Katelyn Peschel said they did not reflect that there was often little choice for employees who needed to work Sundays or holidays.

As someone who studies 5 days a week and has to work weekends, the cut #penaltyrates means there’s less reward for having no “days off”

— what’d i miss (@katelyn_peschel) February 23, 2017

Gold Coast hospitality worker Ashleigh Dunstan said the move was an ironic one.

“Love it how people who don’t rely on weekend pay decide I should earn less, as they enjoy their Saturday nights and Sunday lunches with friends and family,” she wrote on Facebook.

Bronwyn Lee, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, said the changes to penalty rates meant an increasingly casualised workforce would have to work harder to catch up with their older counterparts.

“With a significant proportion of retail and hospitality workers under the age of 24, this latest decision to cut penalty rates is another example of how young Australians are being disproportionately affected by challenges in the workforce and the growing risk they face in an increasingly flexible workforce.

“We need to be asking how we can help these young people survive and thrive in the future, by putting them at the centre of the national policy discussion – not making further cuts to their livelihoods,” she said.

At the time of writing, a petition urging Malcolm Turnbull to take action on the rates decision had aproximately 13,000 signatures.

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