Coffs Coast workers could face cuts to their penalty rates under changes proposed by the Productivity Commission’s draft workplace inquiry.
If the Federal Government approves the changes, workers in the hospitality and retail industries would see reduced penalty rates on weekends and public holidays.
The changes equate to a loss of up to $24.3 million to workers’ hip pockets on the Coffs Coast, according to data commissioned by the retail workers’ union.
While there is no current legislation to cut rates, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed it was on the table and Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash has also indicated cuts would be put to the polling booths at the next election.
SDA Coffs Harbour organiser Mariusz Werstak said casual employees would be among the hardest hit.
“People rely on penalty rates to ensure they can pay their bills and it’s a form of compensation for missing time with family and friends,” Mr Werstak said.
Retail workers make up 14% of Coffs Harbour’s workforce – with more than a third employed in food retailing.
Coffs Harbour resident Chris Carlyle works in the retail industry and said he would lose about $190 each fortnight if the rates were abolished.
“That extra bit of money in my pay is my disposable income,” Mr Carlyle said.
“If penalty rates are cut it means people have less to spend in town and then all of a sudden you will see small businesses fading.”
Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce president George Cecato, however, supported reduced rates, saying small businesses could afford to open their doors on Sundays and public holidays.
“When shop doors are closed no one wins,” Mr Cecato said
“A lot of small businesses don’t trade on Sundays or public holidays because they can’t afford to pay penalty rates, and there are some people who would like to work on Sunday who can’t.
“A reduction needs to be considered and I believe it will create more work overall in the town.”
Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker would not say if he supported a reduction in rates, but said there was no proposal before the Fair Work Commission which administers the rates.