We Struggle And Sacrifice For Those Penalty Rates: A Response From Young Australians

"If you think it’s hard to get a drink at the bar on a public holiday, try being the person behind the bar."

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Well, it finally happened!

Yesterday the Fair Work Commission handed down their decision to reduce Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for full-time, part-time and casual workers in the hospitality, retail and fast food industries. The decision is estimated to affect about 500,000 people across the country; many of them young, many low-income, many already struggling in one way or another.

Though the specifics of the cuts for each person will depend the industry and type of contract, workers will have their Sunday pay knocked back by 7-25 percent. That may not sound like a whole lot considering the already inflated rate, but the Australian Council of Trade Union estimates it will result in personal loses of up to $6,000 a year.

If you have a part-time retail job with a standard rate of pay of $20, for example, you’d miss out on $80 from your eight-hour Sunday shift. (If you’d like to work out your own affected rate, the ABC have a helpful calculator here).

The Fair Work commission has made these cuts with the hope it will lead to longer opening hours and more employment opportunities for businesses. Many small business owners who were struggling, closing shop early or working themselves on Sundays, will now be able to hire someone on the lesser rate. The weekend is a boom time for most businesses in these industries; they’ll likely profit from it.

But what about the staff who will be forced into lesser paying roles for the same work? Here are some stories about what this change means to young Australians who busted — or currently bust — their guts for these rates:

Matilda Dixon-Smith: That Pay Was For Cleaning Your Vomit

I used to work at a pub in Brunswick and I worked every public holiday — Australia Day, New Year’s Day, Melbourne Cup Day — in 15-hour+ shifts because I desperately needed that extra holiday pay while studying.

If you’ve ever been to a bar on a public holiday, you know it’s no bloody joke. If you think it’s hard to get a drink at the bar, try being the person behind the bar. If you think the punters are rowdy, try being the one who has to control them while they call you ‘sweetheart’ and try and touch your arse as you walk by them to collect glasses or clean up vomit. If you think the place is the pits when you leave, well, someone’s behind you cleaning up the mess.

Instead of celebrating on these fun days, I spent three years taking advantage of the fact that I got paid the money I deserved to clean up after drunk fools who want to party on a public holiday. Penalty rates are not a privilege, they are a right for those of us who put in the extra hours while you’re on paid vacation.

Brendan Maclean: Um, That Was My “Good Job That Paid Good Money”

I was a stilt walker at Luna Park while working overnights at the national broadcaster. Without penalty rates I could never have afforded to make my first record. I took those weird, difficult hours specifically to make money.

We’re being told to work harder to afford a house by the government, penalty rates were a form of breaking my back a little bit more to be a part of this fantasy housing market and now that’s being diminished. It’s hypocrisy, it’s punching down and it’s absolutely designed to line the pockets of those who never needed penalty rates at all.

James Watson: This Is How I Get By

Working in retail and hospitality, you understand that you’re going to need to work when other people aren’t. Nobody wants to give up one of the rare chances to see family members or go to a special event, but when you’re having half a trolley of groceries thrown at you because the customer won’t wait 15 minutes until 9am when you can sell alcohol, one word helps get you through it: rates.

You need to have that extra in your pay to get ahead.

Weekends and public holidays are super busy periods. I’m paying rent by myself at the moment and picking up shifts wherever I can. I had hoped to go away over the Easter weekend but then I realised it’s just not really possible. Holidays are vital to help pay for those big costs. When you’re pretty much on pay cheque to pay cheque, you need to have that extra in your pay to get ahead.

Simon Copland: We Sacrifice So Much

When I started university I worked multiple hospitality jobs to be able to afford to live. The pay was not particularly good, so I had to work quite a lot of hours in order to be able to pay for rent, food, and the costs of uni. I tried to work Sundays, public holidays and evenings to earn some extra cash. I gave up a lot of time with my boyfriend and my family.

This often meant squeezing in time together in the late hours after work. But that is what I needed to do to be able to balance the mixture of work, study and life. Without that extra bit of pay I would have been stuck working longer hours, cutting in either on my studies (which were already being impacted) or on my ability to relax, see friends and my partner — stuff that was essential to my happiness and sanity.

Gracie White: That’s My Daycare Money

This is super shitty news. Before maternity leave for my second baby, I volunteered to work Sundays at my cafe — missing time with my family — because of these penalty rates. Now, when I go back, I’ll be earning LESS and have an extra kid.

I do understand it from the business side of things, I guess. My cafe had to shut down on public holidays because they wouldn’t have come close to covering wages. But from my standpoint, we’ve now lost the dollars that would have paid for the daycare we need during the week. Our weekly daycare costs will double, but I’ll be worse off wage-wise.

Andy Hazel: This Will Push People To Stay Home

I spent eight years working weekends at a Melbourne health food store. The money I made working that highly-coveted Sunday shift was the only way I could cover rent and get through the week, which I spent studying health science. That double-time freed up the Saturday and one or two weekday afternoons for studying. Without that time it’s unlikely I’d have been able to cope with the workload.

This ruling does not consider the wider economic impact.

Most of my workmates got by living with their family, which is what this ruling is going to do — push people back into the family home and cripple the same retail and hospitality outlets where any extra money would have been spent. This ruling does not consider the wider economic impact from what, in isolation, must seem appealing to the Fair Work Commission.

Joseph Earp: People Are At Their Most Vulnerable

About eight years ago, I was in a rut. Fresh out of high school and newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I knew I wasn’t ready for university. What I did feel comfortable doing was working my shitkicker job at a video store (one I had been toiling away at for two years).

The pay was terrible — except on weekends. I would spend hours there on a Sunday, sitting behind the counter with a book and serving the odd customer or two while making the real cash that could support me and the cost of my daily medication.

I’m not totally nostalgic about that time — retail jobs don’t generally provide the best atmosphere to be in while you’re coming to terms with mental illness — but I do know that without those penalty rates, things would have been much, much tougher.

At a period in my life when I was not yet ready for much else, weekend work provided me with the time I needed to reconcile with myself and my diagnosis. And those are the people I thought about when I heard the news concerning the rate cut this morning: people working retail not only to make money, but to keep themselves safe. People at their most vulnerable, betrayed by a government that has been tasked with their safety.

Brandon Cook: Way To Build Resentment, Ya Flogs

You know what I love about working insanely busy nightclub shifts on the floor of a venue on a public holiday, the club wall-to-wall with obnoxiously celebratory partygoers looking to get their drinks made and their photos taken as fast as you possibly can? Having my wages cut and my industry crippled by government workers on a consistently ridiculous salary.

Let’s be honest. My industry will go on — but will I feel incentivised to work those busy shifts with my pay cut by 25 percent? I don’t think so. Being marauded by nightclub revellers on New Year’s is bad enough, without knowing that bigwig suits who’ve never done a public holiday shift in their life feel like slashing my income.

Cheers, Fair Work, ya bloody flogs.

Anon: We’re Getting Treated So Badly, This Won’t Even Affect Us All

I could tell you any number of horror stories about how I earned my penalty rates as a bartender — the obnoxious dickheads who snap fingers, the amount of times I’ve cleaned up vomit, etc. — but in a sense I’d be lying, because until recently I wasn’t even earning penalty rates. The last place I worked at paid a flat hourly that was below the award wage for the work I was doing, and had loading only for public holidays, not late hours or weekends.

The unpleasant truth is that penalty rates, award wages, and other legal obligations are by no means taken seriously in the hospitality industry. Many of my friends who work in hospo have stories about being paid cash in hand (often at less than the award wage, with no penalties), or as a mix — some shifts on the books, some shifts off. For many employers it’s easier to sling staff a few shift drinks and free food to cultivate a sense of camaraderie than it is to actually pay staff and payroll tax in line with their legal obligations.

Vulnerable workers were already missing out on what is legally owed to them.

For many hospitality workers, today’s penalty rates announcement won’t mean anything — because they’re not being paid penalty rates in the first place. I’m not defending the reduction in those rates, but highlighting the fact that vulnerable workers were already missing out on what is legally owed to them. Further reducing penalty rates will send a message to business owners that the government doesn’t care about working conditions in the hospitality industry, when precisely the opposite message needs to be sent.

Patrick Lenton: I Had A Knife Thrown At My Face

What I learned from my time working in a small homophobic pub, is that you earned that extra money when you worked on a Sunday. For whatever reason, Sunday night was weirdly tense, which was probably best manifested by the time I looked up just in time to see a wild-eyed patron throw a hunting knife at my face, which whizzed past and clattered in amongst the big bottles of budget sherry.

While that was terrifying, it was actually nothing compared to the time I did an eight-hour shift compacting garbage at Target, working directly underneath a speaker which was blaring Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ on repeat. It’s a good song, but not for eight hours. Considering it’s NEVER a marvellous night for a moon dance for me anymore, I feel like I should be adequately rewarded via penalty rates.

Josephine Parsons: I Had Fried Chicken Thrown At My Face

I got a five-piece chicken meal thrown at me, piece by piece, when I worked at KFC when I was 14. It was because I was following company orders to give an evenly distributed combination of thigh, wing, leg and breast in all five-piece combos instead of giving the customer all thighs like he asked for. I was very shocked and absolutely did not know how to react when pieces of fried chicken kept slapping my pimply little face.

But what are you gonna do? My mum didn’t have any extra money for me so I had no choice but to work if I wanted to do/buy anything on my own (my emo/punk CD collection wasn’t going to fund itself). Weekends/Thursday nights were the only time I could work outside of school. Turns out the worst kinds of pushy customers came in on Saturdays and Sundays. Anyway, I’m a vegetarian now so I wonder if that’s related, lol.

These cuts will likely come into effect halfway through the year. The Australian Council of Trade Unions are petitioning against the change. Read more here.