Sunday penalty rates hurting small business: Senator Xenophon

Small businesses obliged to pay their employees double on Sundays are taking a hard hit to their cash flow, according to Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.

Senator Xenophon said that the weekend penalty rates were "killing small businesses", with many businesses no longer able to stay open every day. He also said that these rates acted as a disincentive for businesses to hire casual workers, particularly students.

He proposed an amendment whereby an employee would only be eligible for double pay on Sundays if he/she worked more than 38 hours in seven days or more than 10 hours in a day. Only small businesses with less than 20 full-time employees would be eligible under his proposed bill.

This comes off the back of the Australian Retailers Association calling for an improvement in penalty rates as part of the government's review of the Fair Work Act. Executive Director Russell Zimmerman expressed concern over a lack of recognition of the issue's importance so far, stating that the review handed down by Fair Work Australia offered "no light at the end of the tunnel".

"The ARA are disappointed that the review made no recommendation on a wage-superannuation trade off, nor did it recommend a process be implemented to ensure there is a trade off."

Conversely, the Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney argued that the removal of weekend penalty rates would cut the take-home pay of working Australians, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors.

"Adequate compensation for working anti-social hours is part of what makes a secure job. People in part-time or casual work often give up their time on weekends, evenings and public holidays because they are the only hours available to them and usually rely on penalty rates to provide them with a sustainable income," said Ms Kearney.

"The employers leading the campaign to remove weekend and public holiday entitlements are those in the restaurant and catering industry, but we know this is the thin edge of the wedge and if employers succeed in these industries it will undermine the weekend penalty rate system across all industries."

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