So what do you think about penalty rates in the hospitality industry? These are additional rates of pay that employers must legally pay staff for working outside so-called ‘normal’ hours. Penalty rates paid to hospitality staff include a 25 percent premium to work on a Saturday, and 50 percent premium on Sundays. Staff who work weeknight evenings are paid a 10 percent penalty between 10pm and 12am, and a 15 percent penalty between 12am and 7am. But are they are farce in today’s 24/7 society?
We are certainly shifting to an “open all hours” society. In my online editing role at The Australian Financial Review I work an evening shift, and sometimes have to work Sundays. Our readers — who once turned to newspapers — are increasingly demanding online content. In the new digital newsroom, journalists, editors and producers work around the clock, delivering news to readers’ digital devices and desktop computers.
I rarely see my partner weeknights, and he’s often left for work before i awake. During the week we pass like the proverbial ships in the night. Once a month I have to work on a Sunday, so our precious weekends together are wrenched in half. Others in my team work throughout the night, or start at the ungodly hour of 4am. Seven-day rosters are not unheard of.
We don’t get paid penalty rates, and we never will. No employer would be mad enough to retrofit penalty rates to their wage structure just because occupations have morphed to meet 21st Century needs. However, penalty rates are firmly entrenched in the hospitality sector. And they’re proving difficult to remove.
Many restaurateurs argue that this hike in labour costs, particularly on weekends, makes it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. The Financial Review points out that two major restaurants in Brisbane, Philip Johnson’s Bistro One Eleven and the award-winning Ortiga, said this week they were closing and cited penalty rates as one of the main reasons.
Now, i’m not sure I buy into this argument. After all, weekends are also the busiest time for restaurants and cafes. Alongside higher labour costs comes a surge in business. And restaurateurs are increasingly covering penalty rates by adding a surcharge to weekend menus. The diner — not the employer — often covers these additional costs.
However, i agree with restaurateurs who argue that paying penalty rates is out of date with our modern lifestyle: where customers increasingly expect 24/7 service, or at the very least service seven days a week. Sundays are no longer sacrosanct, as they once were. And the 9am-5pm working day is no longer ‘normal’.
It can also be argued that many of the hospitality employees who are paid a penalty for working ‘unsociable’ hours actually choose to work those shifts because it suits them. It’s not a penalty to work those shifts, it’s a preference.
Defending employers, Restaurant & Catering and the NSW Business Chamber made an application to the Fair Work Commission for a change in the penalty rate system. They proposed that workers only be paid a penalty rate if they were required to work on more than five consecutive days. Penalty rates of 25 percent would apply on the sixth consecutive day of work, and 50 percent on the seventh consecutive day of work. Yesterday, the Commission rejected the application.
Should hospitality workers be paid penalty rates? I think not. And it’s not a case of ‘if i’m not paid a penalty rate, no one else should be paid one either.’ I think our wage system should reflect the 21st Century. Evening work and weekend work is the new normal, get used to it.
Having said that, workers should be recompensed accordingly. Salaries should take into account the inconvenience of getting to work on Sundays when public transport runs less regularly, the erosion of personal safety when traveling home in the dark at night, and the stress of having less support when dealing with calamities, a high (often unseen by the day staff) workload, and a diminished number of staff.
I’m saying ditch farcical penalty rates, but pay these workers more — full stop. That way anyone who works not so family-friendly hours benefits, not just those in professions that locked in penalty rates decades ago.
Unions and employee groups argue that hospitality workers are amongst the nation’s lowest paid and are dependent on penalty rates. If this is the case, then do your job, fight for them, and ensure the workers you represent are paid more — across the board.
Higher salaries will force some employers to be better at business. Others will pass the costs onto the end user, which could, in fact, be part of running a better business. In a seven day society, when customers want services at their fingertips, they should arguably be prepared to pay more for it. Pay higher salaries and everyone gets what they pay for.