If allowed to go ahead, cuts to Sunday penalty rates threaten the wages of up to 700,000 workers. There is widespread opposition to the cuts, but also 75 prominent economists and academics have stated that they would further entrench inequality and do little to produce jobs and growth. This attack on some of Australia’s lowest paid workers must be fought.
Under the pressure of voter outrage, most of the Senate crossbench has supported a bill aimed at retaining penalty rates on weekends. This bill however, will likely be rejected in the House of Representatives where the government holds a slim majority.
Labor Senator Doug Cameron begged for a National Party MP to cross the floor saying “I would hope that someone in the National Party, at least in the lower house, would understand that what this bill does is protect workers in National Party seats”. In reality this is a forlorn hope.
With so much at stake, workers cannot rely on a parliament that is dominated by parties financed by big business interests. In addition to institutions like the misnamed Fair Work Commission, the parliament is beholden to the forces and logic of a system that puts profits before people.
There are however other ways to effect change. Workers should use their collective power to directly impact the profits of those set to benefit from the cuts. Already most on the crossbench have been forced to change their position – if the union movement organised national stop work action, huge amounts of pressure could be exerted on the government.
If these cuts are allowed to proceed they will set a dangerous precedent and embolden attempts to wind back wages in other industries. It is the responsibility of the union movement as a whole to vigorously fight these cuts.
By Mark Poore