Labor MP Catches Out Anti-Penalty Rate Group By Calling On A Weekend


MP Kelvin Thomson received a letter from the lobby group imploring him to back a cut to Sunday rates. He decided to test just how committed they were to their principles.

As the debate around penalty rates was heating up during September and October, with a range of Government Ministers giving public countenance to slashing the prized condition, the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association thought it would be a good idea to write to Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson. The group is angling to have Sunday rates cut and argues doing so would generate jobs. Times are a-changin’, they say, and working on the weekend isn’t as special as it used to be.

Unfortunately for the lobby group their Chief Executive Officer John Hart didn’t get the response he would have been hoping for.

kelvin thomson
Labor MP Kelvin Thomson (IMAGE: Facebook)

Instead Thomson, the Member for Wills, tried a little experiment to see just how dedicated Hart and his Association are to working on weekends, something they want workers in the sector to do for less.

“I don’t share the Association’s view that cutting penalty rates would generate jobs, both because pay cuts reduce spending power, and because many young people I talk to in this and other industries tell me they don’t get paid penalty rates now, even though they’re entitled to them,” Thomson wrote in response.

The Labor MP briefly put his case, and noted Hart had argued ‘changing social norms’, a drop in religious observance, and the softening of trading hours meant a change to Sunday rates was appropriate. Thomson continued:

“The letter gave me the phone number of your Public Affairs Manager and invited me to contact him to discuss these issues and your Association’s campaign. So I did. I rang last Saturday, and again on Sunday, but there was no answer.”

Some things, it seems – like the hypocrisy of lobby groups and the value of weekends – just never change.

“Perhaps there is still some magic left in Saturdays and Sundays after all,” Thomson concluded.

It’s unlikely Hart will be feeling too disgruntled after the exchange, however.

Just one day after his letter was sent the industry group’s campaign against Sunday rates received a boost from the Prime Minister, when Malcolm Turnbull said his newly anointed Cabinet would consider cutting the condition which many low-paid workers rely on.

Senior figures like Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg then took things further, when they expressed sympathy for the sorts of arguments Hart made in his letter.

The statements followed a draft Productivity Commission report, initiated by the Abbott government and seen by the labour movement as a backdoor attack on workers’ rights, which in August recommended that Sunday penalty rates for hospitality and retail workers be pared back by half to match Saturday levels.

With Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister people like John Hart may still have the last laugh.

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