By Chelsea Rice
Landmark changes in South Australia to penalty rates for weekend work have prompted industry groups to call for similar changes in Western Australia and left businesses and workers alike wondering what the future will be.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia chief executive officer Deidre Willmott said in a recent statement the state’s penalty rates need to be reconsidered in light of the current economy.
Ms Willmot said Western Australia needs a penalty rate system that reflects the needs of the industry and consumer expectations, arguing a change would result in better choices for consumers as well as more job opportunities for employees.
The recent reforms in South Australia saw Saturday penalty rates scratched altogether and Sunday rates halved while public holiday rates were scaled back from 2.5 times the normal rate to double.
Rob Pasqualotto, who has worked in retail for more than 30 years and currently manages an independent grocery store which opens every day of the year except Christmas Day, says as the legislation currently stands in Western Australia, the rates are too high for businesses to stay viable.
“For some small businesses it’s becoming impossible to open the doors on Sunday and long weekends due to the current penalty rates employers must pay,” said Mr Pasqualotto.
“We have never considered not opening on long weekends and public holidays, however we have had to work hard on cutting hours and finding the correct staff to work to make it viable for us to open.”
Mr Pasqualotto acknowledges if rates are cut drastically it may be harder to find the same quality of staff he currently employs on weekends.
Mother-of-three Esther Walker, from Hillarys, is one of those opposing any change.
She has been working weekends in retail for the past three years and if the South Australian changes were to apply in WA, she says her take home pay would be cut almost in half.
“I make sacrifices to be here on the weekends to receive the penalty rates,” Mrs Walker said.
“The biggest sacrifice is time with my family and if penalty rates were to go I am not sure that sacrifice would be worth it.”
Curtin nursing student Hamish Sewell has worked weekends as a deli assistant for the past four years and says working extra days during the week is just not an option.
“Being a nursing student I have many prac days which are unpaid, then I also have classes and study around those,” Mr Sewell said.
“If the current penalty rates I earn were to change it would make it very difficult to pay my weekly living expenses.”