Fran Kelly - RN Breakfast: Fair Work Commission ruling on Sunday penalty rates

  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister for Women
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Western Australia


Subject: Fair Work Commission ruling on Sunday penalty rates.

FRAN KELLY:        That’s Bill Shorten in Question Time yesterday. Well, Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, Fran, and good morning to your listeners.

FRAN KELLY:        I think a lot of people listening would say that’s a reasonable question from Bill Shorten, is it? Why are you trying to give big business a tax cut and at the same time allowing workers’ wages to be cut?

MINISTER CASH: And I’d respond to you with a question for Bill Shorten. Why is it okay for the big end of town to enter into cosy deals with certain unions – in this case, the SDA – to get rid of penalty rates on weekends and that’s okay, but then small business are not allowed that same flexibility? There’s a reason, Fran that we have an independent umpire – the Fair Work Commission – to make these types of decisions, because quite reasonably you need to remove the politics from decisions in relations to workers’ entitlements. And honestly, I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the past few days, in particular small businesses, and they are shaking their heads at Bill Shorten and his consistent hypocrisy.

FRAN KELLY:        OK, but the case - my people - a lot of people say well, fair enough, Bill Shorten when he was the head of a union, he traded off people’s…

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely.

FRAN KELLY:        … penalties, but the point is, isn’t it a different - that was a trade-off. That was a trade-off for other conditions, maybe increasing the base pay [indistinct] - base rate of pay?

MINISTER CASH: Oh, but hold on Fran. It was a trade-off- it was a trade-off of weekend penalty rates.

FRAN KELLY:        Yes, but was it…

MINISTER CASH:  Bill Shorten - no, but hold on.

FRAN KELLY:        … But they got something in exchange.

MINISTER CASH: Bill Shorten - Bill Shorten can’t have it both ways. They are either sacrosanct or they are not, and he’s now saying well, it depends on the political situation at the time, and that is why you have an independent umpire that makes these decisions. Decisions based on empirical evidence, evidence presented in this case by over 5000 different submissions, and it is very much a process that is not subject to the influence of politics.

FRAN KELLY:        With respect, Minister, I certainly don’t want to make Labor’s argument for them, but aren’t we talking about apples and oranges here? One was a - this decision from the Commission is just simply a cut to people’s pay. There’s no trade-off there. There’s no other conditions they get in response.

MINISTER CASH:  But again, Fran, why is it OK that you – and unfortunately it is you – and the Labor Party are prepared to defend the ability of the big end of town – whether it’s the big end of town in the building industry with the CFMEU or the big end of town in relation to the SDA – doing cosy deals that allow them the flexibility to pay in a way that suits them, but small business is not offered that same opportunity?

FRAN KELLY:        Well, so with the corral - then presumably if you follow that logic, small business, in accepting this decision from the Fair Work Commission – and they like it, by and large, because penalty rates are a problem for them – that as they cut those Sunday penalty rates, they should be offering their workers something in return like a higher base rate of pay.

MINISTER CASH:  Fran, I don’t know who you talk to, but the majority of small businesses that I talk to – in particular in rural and regional Australia – either don’t open on a Sunday so there is no cutting of a penalty rate because they’re actually not paying them because they’re not open, or alternatively they’re a mum and dad who do open their business on a Sunday because they know that’s what the consumer wants, but they’re actually working for free. So Fran, the people I speak to are very focused on the fact that they can potentially now open on a Sunday, which is fantastic, and give work to the unemployed and the underemployed, or alternatively, if they’re a mum and dad who are actually working for free, spend a bit of time with their family and employ another staff member to take up that role.

FRAN KELLY:        I think a lot of people across the country think that maybe double time on Sundays might be an anomaly, but they don’t want people to lose pay. They think base rates of pay should be increased to make up for it. Do you think that’s a valid - a valid exchange?

MINISTER CASH: Well Fran, as you - I’m sure you have read the decision of President Ross, and in reading the decision you would know that in Chapter 11, President Ross himself acknowledges that there will be some who do lose some pay, and that is why he has now requested submission in relation to transitional provisions. He sets out a number of options…

FRAN KELLY:        So will you be [indistinct] a submission to that?

MINISTER CASH: Well, in this case, the Commission has directly requested the Commonwealth to provide a factual submission on what basically a take-home pay order is, and on that basis we’re considering providing a submission because we’ve had a direct request from the Commission.

FRAN KELLY:        And in that submission, would you be recommending that the cuts to penalty rates be offset by some kind of increase in pay?

MINISTER CASH: Well Fran, you need to be very careful there, because regardless of who is in government, unless you were Bill Shorten, the Commonwealth only ever provides factual submissions to the Commission.

FRAN KELLY:        Okay.

MINISTER CASH: It is an independent umpire, and up until recently, I personally thought we were on a unity ticket with Bill Shorten, given obviously all of his comments, in particular in relation to the Greens legislation and Brendan O’Connor’s comments, but suddenly all of that’s changed. And actually, Fran, I think it’s really sad that Bill Shorten is now mounting a scare campaign, a hypocritical scare campaign to trash the independence of a Fair Work Commission which across Australia, regardless of whether or not a business group or an employee group agree or disagree with a particular decision to – just hold on, Fran – they would agree that it is an independent umpire that bases its decisions on the evidence presented to it, free from political interference. To actually throw that process in the air and say hey, let’s have the Parliament debate the minimum wage, debate penalty rates, sets a very dangerous precedent that all Australians should be very worried about.

FRAN KELLY:        You’re listening to RN Breakfast, it’s 13 past eight. Our guest is the Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Minister, you’ve been on the phone, I understand, to business and employer groups urging them to get in and support the campaign to counter the union campaign we’ve heard so much about. Did you get that support?

MINISTER CASH: Fran, I’m not quite sure where that came from. I speak to stakeholders on a regular basis. I think it would be unusual for me not to speak to stakeholders in relation to a decision that’s been handed down of this nature.

FRAN KELLY:        Did you ring them all and ask them to get behind this campaign, get on board?

MINISTER CASH: I spoke - you know, Fran, I think it’s a little bit like my discussions with the crossbench. I don’t canvas discussions I have. I think that’s completely inappropriate. But I would say this to the business community: we are being threatened with a WorkChoices-style campaign from the unions based on complete misinformation. I would hope that everybody is out there – you yourself included, Fran, and ABC Fact Check – that when you see a campaign that says penalty rates have been abolished, or to quote you yesterday: penalty rates have been slashed. Your own Fact Check unit spends five minutes saying hey, hold on, that is actually an untruth. Or alternatively, when Bill Shorten stands up with someone that he says is gutted as a result of the decision – dear old Trent – only to find out that Trent is in no way affected by the decision because his employer was able to do a cosy deal with the SDA condoned by Bill Shorten, who stands up for the big end of town. I hope ABC Fact Check comes out and says that is a lie as well.

FRAN KELLY:        OK. And just in terms of business getting on board, our political commentator Niki Savva reminded us that business always says or often says they’re right behind the Government on policy but they’ve turned out to be quote: so far behind no-one can see them, and that’s what happened in WorkChoices, to the frustration of the Howard Government, was obvious. Are you worried about that?

MINISTER CASH:  Again, when you have an information campaign based on a lie, which clearly is what the CFMEU and the unions are threatening, I hope even Bill Shorten and the ABC come on board and they call it out for exactly what it is: a blatant lie.

FRAN KELLY:        Michaelia Cash, thank you very much for joining us.

MINISTER CASH: Always great to be with you. Thanks for having me, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:        Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Employment.

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