Labor wages war over penalty pay amid concerns for weekend workers

Labor says hospitality workers would be hit hard by penalty rate cuts.

Labor says hospitality workers would be hit hard by penalty rate cuts. Photo: Getty

Pharmacy workers could be left up to $26,000 worse off if Scott Morrison is re-elected, according to Labor leader Bill Shorten who plans to launch a new campaign on Monday targeting the Prime Minister on wages.

Mr Morrison voted against Labor’s plan to overturn penalty rate cuts eight times in Parliament. 

It’s a statistic that unions have used to target Mr Morrison in the past, but now Labor has estimated what the impact of cutting penalty rates would be over the next three-year term of the federal government if he wins the election. 

Mr Shorten claims that retail worker could lose up to $15,000 and a fast food worker could lose up to $10,000.

Pay for cafe and restaurant staff would be down $9360.

“Penalty rates are not a luxury – they help people put food on the table and petrol in the car. They can be the difference in paying the electricity bill, health costs or child care costs – all of which keep soaring under this government,” Mr Shorten said.

 “A pharmacy worker will lose up to $7000 next year and up to $26,000 over the next three years.

“It says everything you need to know about the Liberals that they’re cutting workers’ wages but giving millionaires an $11,000-a-year tax cut.”

The Morrison government has long maintained that the independent Fair Work Commission should be left to set penalty rates without government interference.

“Bill Shorten knows it is the independent Fair Work Commission that sets penalty rates, not the government. In fact, it was Bill Shorten, as Julia Gillard’s minister, who set up the review into penalty rates. He even appointed the umpire,” a Liberal Party campaign spokesman said.

Labor will legislate to reverse the cuts in the first 100 days – however if the Liberals are re-elected, the cuts will keep going. The cumulative impact of these cuts means that workers will lose up to $26,000 over the next three years, depending on the industry.

Scott Morrison at his Pentecostal church in Sydney on Easter Sunday. Photo: AAP

Centre Alliance to back penalty rate restoration 

The ALP confirmed over the weekend it will try and rush the penalty rate through the Senate if it wins the election before July 1. 

The reason is that the new Senate that takes over after that date is an unknown quantity and Labor believes it can get the legislation through the Parliament with the senators who will remain in place.

From July, a new Senate will come into force that the Labor Party will need to navigate to secure support for controversial changes to negative gearing for property investors and franked dividends for retirees. 

In addition to reversing cuts to penalty rates, Labor will protect Australians from unfair labour hire practices, so that workers doing the same job get the same pay, and we will act on insecure work and unfair working conditions.

However, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick noted that it was a case of exceptional circumstances and generally the issue should be determined independently by the Fair Work Commission. 

“It really isn’t a matter for the Parliament. This is an exceptional circumstance where we need to redress something that has gone wrong,” he told Insiders on ABC TV.

But Senate could block Labor’s negative gearing changes

But Labor could face trouble in the Senate to legislate planned changes to negative gearing and dividend imputation credits before their start dates. 

“On the franking credits, we’ve come out publicly and stated that we will protect retirees, particularly here in South Australia,” Senator Patrick said. 

“We need to make sure that those people who have set up their retirement arrangements and are not in a position to change those arrangements easily, and indeed, are not necessarily wealthy, that their plans aren’t unravelled because of this. 

“People often use negative gearing as a way to get into the housing market. We also need to make sure that we don’t end up closing out rental properties such that people who need rentals can’t get access to rental accommodation.”

If the Senate blocks or amends Labor’s proposed reforms it will blow a multibillion-dollar hole in how Mr Shorten proposes to pay for spending on health and education.


Controversy also continues over the Turnbull government’s decision to award $80 million for a water buyback from a Queensland farm in 2017.

Barnaby Joyce, who was the minister at the time of the transaction, is threatening to sue Channel 10’s The Project over a report on the issue. 

Another Liberal frontbencher, Angus Taylor, has been drawn into the controversy because he once worked as a consultant and director for the group – Eastern Australian Agriculture – that sold the water licences years later. Mr Taylor remains furious he has been drawn into the controversy because he maintains he cut ties with the group years before the transaction and had no involvement in the transfer. 

The Greens and Centre Alliance backed calls on Sunday for a royal commission into water buybacks.

“I’m very concerned. This story has actually been public for about a year, but there are new elements to the story that have emerged. The Cayman Islands being one of those issues,” Senator Patrick said. 

“And I am absolutely disturbed that the Australian government has been dealing with a company that is domiciled in a tax haven.”

Mystery still surrounds who profited from the transaction. 

“There are questions as to who are the beneficiaries of this particular transaction. There was a $52 million profit booked by the company here in Australia, went to the Caymans and, of course, because of the lack of transparency there, we do not know who the beneficiaries are of the water buyback,” Senator Patrick said.

But Mr Joyce hit back on Sunday over claims swirling after a report on The Project reignited the issue. 

“The details conveyed, both in inference and fact, were reckless and may be deemed vexatious as the correct information could easily have been obtained by contacting the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources,” a spokesman said.

“Mr Joyce had no role in determining either the price or the vendor, nor the classification of any purchase of a water entitlement in this area.  They were done at arms length by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in conjunction with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

“By examination of precedents of the purchase of water by the previous Labor minister, Penny Wong, using The Project’s approach to the current report would infer that former minister Wong was also possibly culpable of some nefarious purpose in the acquisition of Twynam Pastoral Company’s parcel of water.

“This also would be totally incorrect and after numerous Senate inquiries, no such assertion as to the legality of Penny Wong’s role has ever been made. 

The spokesman said the department had confirmed Mr Joyce had no contact with Mr Taylor.

“And this also could have been discovered if Mr [Hamish] Macdonald had inquired the same from the department,” the spokesman said.

“The purchase of EAA water was first mooted by the Queensland government in 2015.

“By reason of what may be deemed as a defamatory inference, that Mr Joyce was motivated and capable of an ulterior purpose in his role as a minister, he is currently in discussions with solicitors about this matter.”

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