Employer group backs penalty rates for hairdressers amid industry push to cut them

Demonstrations and workers' anger did nothing to foil the penalty rate reduction.

Demonstrations and workers' anger did nothing to foil the penalty rate reduction. Photo: AAP

Hairdressers have found an unlikely ally in a fight against an employer group trying to cut penalty rates in their industry – an employer group.

Hair and Beauty Australia has begun a push to reduce Sunday and public holiday rates through the same Fair Work Commission (FWC) process that saw penalties reduced in the hospitality, fast food, pharmacy and retail sectors earlier this year.

But now a rival employer group, the Hair and Beauty Industry Association (HBIA), has publicly opposed that claim, arguing that it would actually hurt businesses who are crying out for more staff.

HBIA chief executive Sandra Campitelli told The New Daily the organisation had surveyed members and the majority opposed a reduction to penalty rates.

“A lot of our members said that they’re desperately trying to find staff and they felt that this could have a negative effect on that,” she said.

The HBIA declined a request to join the FWC submission, lodged by Ai-Group, and Ms Campitelli did not rule out filing a opposing submission asking the commission to keep penalties at the same rate.

‘Lowest-paid workers’

Under the submission lodged by Ai-Group, Sunday rates would be cut from 200 per cent to 150 per cent while public holiday pay would be reduced from 250 per cent to 225 per cent.

The reduction could cost a hairdresser $85 a week for an eight-hour shift on Sunday and nearly $4500 a year, according to the Australian Workers Union, while the Labor Party has claimed such a decision would impact 84,400 workers.

Hairdressers are among the lowest-paid workers in Australia. Photo: AAP

When Ai-Group announced its intention to request a change to penalty rates in the hair and beauty industry in July, it noted the commission had said the “hair and beauty industry has some similar characteristics to the retail and hospitality industries”.

A key difference, according to Ms Campitelli, is the level of training undertaken by hairdressers, which can include a lengthy apprenticeship.

Cheap haircuts a problem

Kate O’Brien, a member of Hair Stylists Australia, a new union for hair and beauty workers, said the organisation was pushing for hairdressers to be paid “what we’re worth”.

“I think we’re going backwards if we’re cutting penalty rates,” she said.

Both Ms O’Brien and Ms Campitelli said a big issue in the industry was the expectation of very low prices driven by cut-price barbers who charge as little as $10 for a haircut.

“With rising costs across the board, it just brings down the industry as a whole,” Ms O’Brien said.

Ms Campitelli said many salons were struggling to keep up with the cost of running a small business, particularly due to the price of electricity and gas.

“We say to our members you should raise your prices every year,” she said.

“Hairdressers are notoriously bad at lifting their prices because they tend to build a relationship with their clients. They don’t necessarily see their clients as clients, they seem them as friends.”

Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Daniel Walton said hairdressers were already among the lowest-paid workers in the country.

He said the fact the commission had invited submissions was “an ominous sign of things to come”.

Hair and Beauty Australia declined to comment.

But the organisation’s president Maureen Harding told the ABC last month that employers were struggling because of “unsustainably” high penalty rates.

“HABA is seeking a modest reduction in penalty rates that broadly reflects what the commission has already determined to be a fair approach in the context of similar industries, such as the retail sector,” she said.

The Fair Work Commission is not expected to make a decision on the case until next year.

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