Mandate to keep penalty rates - the people have spoken

This article was written by United Voice National Secretary Jo-anne Schofield and appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 8th July, 2016 and published online here -


POST-ELECTION polling in marginal seats around Australia by ReachTel has shown the enormous impact weekend penalty rates has had in swinging seats to Labor.

While the AEC continues to count votes, the poll commissioned by United Voice found a majority of constituents in Longman, Forde, Herbert, Macarthur, Eden-Monaro, Bass, Dunkley, Solomon, Hindmarsh and Cowan felt strongly about the issue.

The poll found more than 55 per cent of voters in those seats opposed cutting penalty rates, and nearly 59 per cent of voters said the position of the political parties on penalty rates was important to their voting decision.

The sentiment was especially strong in the seats of Solomon, Eden-Monaro and Longman where nearly 60 per cent of voters surveyed opposed cuts and about 20 per cent rated it as a “very important” factor in their voting decision.

The Save Our Weekend campaign began 18 months ago in response to employer and Productivity Commission attacks on the penalty rates of low paid workers. The union took this campaign into the election period. United Voice put the call out for volunteers and they came in their droves and not just union members — non-members too.

Nearly 73 per cent of voters in the marginal seats polled by ReachTel said they were aware of the campaign by Australian unions to maintain penalty rates.

However, results of the poll merely tell us what hospitality workers and many others campaigning in marginal seats during the election already knew: the attack on weekend rates was a key issue that influenced the outcome in critical seats. Voters saw the attempt to cut the pay of some of Australia’s lowest paid workers for what it was: an unfair and undeserved pay cut for people who cannot afford it. This was also an issue that tapped into broader concerns about growing inequality in Australia.

The national minimum wage has steadily and consistently fallen behind average weekly earnings over the last twenty years. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, and rates of underemployment, insecure work and poor working conditions have all increased. For the first time since the Great Depression, our nation has a generation of working poor.

The resounding message from the community is to leave our weekend rates and our safety net alone.

Two of the most vocal opponents of weekend rates — Peter Hendy in NSW and Andrew Nikolic in Tasmania — lost their seats to Save our Weekend campaign supporters Mike Kelly and Ross Hart. In the electorates that the Save our Weekend campaign focused on, the 2PP swing against the Coalition averaged 6.19 per cent, which was well above the national swing.

The strong demand of the community and the only real mandate of the new government is that it must act to address inequality by protecting working rights, and investing in healthcare, education and training opportunities for all. The new government, however it is formed, must listen: the community has spoken.

Jo-anne Schofield is National Secretary of the 120,000-strong union United Voice.

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