The dirty secret of opponents of penalty rates

With thanks to Rob Corr

Recently, there has been a rush of business lobby groups from the retail and hospitality sectors talking about the terrible evils of weekend penalty rates.

Not, let’s be clear, the penalty rates received by paramedics, nurses or fire fighters.

No, the dastardly culprit is penalty rates received by the lowest paid groups of workers in Australia: café workers, cleaners, shop assistants and hotel attendants.

In the eyes of the retail and hospitality lobby, and the Productivity Commission, these workers are not only unworthy of weekend penalty rates. Not only that, but low paid workers actually want to be paid less.

This last claim is made in research by Deloitte commissioned by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

ACCI and other business lobby groups had been stung in recent times for making shoddy submissions to the Fair Work Commission, submissions that lacked credibility and therefore “cannot be relied on as evidence representative of employers within the economy generally”.

In response, ACCI brought in Deloitte to produce a survey and report attacking penalty rates. The report has been used by the business lobby and other opponents of decent wages, including Prime Minister Abbott, to “prove” that businesses paying penalty rates are “doing it tough” and that workers don’t really care about weekend rates.

The dirty secret about the Deloitte report, like so many of the other shoddy reports pushed by the business lobby, is that its figures are embarrassing.

The Deloitte survey is being used to push for cuts to weekend rates of pay in retail and hospitality, but only 36% of respondents work in those industries.

The survey is being used to claim that casual workers don’t care about being paid penalty rates, but only 13% of respondents are casuals.

The survey is being used to claim that young workers don’t need penalty rates, but only 4% of respondents are aged 16-21.

To compound this embarrassment, the Deloitte “analysis” distorts its own numbers to support a pre-determined anti-penalty rates conclusion.

Let’s be clear, the objective of ACCI paying Deloitte for this report was to build a case for penalty rates to be reduced for those “unworthy” retail and hospitality workers.

To do so, they need to argue that weekends are nothing special – just two working days like any other – that the very concept of a weekend no longer exists. 

The problem is that the survey found the opposite.

An overwhelming 66% (Saturdays) and 71% (Sundays) of respondents said “I have some problem working on the weekend”.

This was clearly embarrassing for Deloitte, who decided to massage the numbers a bit.

In the survey, those workers who had a problem with weekend work were asked to give specific details about their problem. Did it interfere with religious activities, spending time with family and friends, work-life balance? The split was fairly even across these, but some (10% Saturday, 14% Sunday) chose “None of the above”.

Deloitte decided those people – who specifically said they did have “some problem with working on the weekend” – actually had no problem with weekend work.

So when Tony Abbott cites Deloitte’s claims that “a large percentage of weekend workers, 44%… in the case of Saturdays and 43% for Sundays” are untroubled by weekend work, those numbers include 10% and 14% who specifically are, in fact, troubled by weekend work.

This is the dirty secret of opponents of weekend rates. When your own numbers, from your own commissioned report, don’t support your pre-determined conclusions, just make it up.

The Deloitte report also confirms that penalty rate opponents view retail and hospitality workers as “unworthy”.

The report looked at workers who “opt in to weekend work” for non-financial reasons. Business lobby bosses and Prime Minister Abbott, regularly make the claim that many workers prefer to work on the weekend.

Deloitte’s survey again, embarrassingly, finds that the overwhelming reason people work on the weekend is not because they “opt in” but because “I am required to by my employer” (64% on Saturday and 52% on Sunday).

What’s more, the higher rates of pay from weekend rates is the primary factor for workers wanting to work on weekends: “Higher hourly pay” (26%, 27%), “earn more disposable income” (26%, 22%) and “I rely on weekend work to cover my expenses” (19%, 17%).

The non-financial reasons that workers “opt in” for weekend work – study and child care – did not crack double digits and were the smallest options chosen by respondents.

Deloitte let the cat out of the bag on page 41 where they claimed “a significant portion of weekend workers could meet their financial needs (as opposed to their wants) even under lower penalty rates”.

Translated, this simply means that Deloitte, and ACCI, think retail and hospitality workers are unworthy of weekend penalty rates.