Axing penalty rates a $22m hit on workers

Gerard Dwyer

Gerard Dwyer

MILLIONS of dollars a year would be sucked from the Farrer electorate’s economy if penalty rates were removed.

That is the key finding of an independent study on the issue released in Albury yesterday.

The McKell Institute study has shown economic activity in the electorate would be up to $8.3 million lower.

And the take-home pay of retail workers in the electorate would be $6.2 million to $22.2 million a year less — depending whether penalty rates were lowered or removed in full.

The issue will go before the Fair Work Commission by Christmas, with a ruling expected in early next year.

The study was commissioned by the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.

NSW secretary Gerard Dwyer denied that the union had “tailored” the report findings.

He said the McKell Institute was asked to make conservative assumptions on the affects of abolishing penalties.

The institute describes itself as being an independent, not-for-profit institute, “dedicated to developing practical policy ideas and contributing to public debate”.

The union will use The Economic Impact of Penalty Rate Cuts on Rural NSW study in a campaign against moves to get rid of penalty rates.

The campaign was launched yesterday before a meeting of 20 shop stewards representing about 1500 retail workers from the region.

The union fears some business groups and sections of the federal government are determined to see penalties dumped.

Mr Dwyer said his head office had told him early yesterday the issue could be debated in the NSW Parliament.

That followed confirmation a union petition calling for such a move had secured 10,000 signatures — the minimum number required for it to be tabled.

The union’s concerns follow a ruling by the commission’s full bench in May that the 75 per cent penalty rate for casual Sunday workers be cut to 50 per cent.

Border business groups applauded that decision.

Murray-Riverina NSW Business Chamber regional manager Ben Foley has said the ruling was one “in the right direction”.

“We’re not calling for a scrapping of penalty rates, but a review of the system,” he said.

Similarly, Albury Northside Chamber of Commerce deputy chairman Scott Mann said penalty rates had long been too high.

But Mr Dwyer said the institute’s report had “jolted a lot of people” into looking at penalty rates “in a new light”.

“You can’t suck hundreds of millions of dollars off NSW people and not expect a negative flow-on,” he said.