Rising Tide Blog

Is it time to scrap penalty rates?

Posted by Matt Hale

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As a single dad with two small boys, the days of spending my Sunday morning in a café pouring over the newspapers are well and truly over.  But this past weekend I was lucky to wrangle some time off to go and meet a mate in Collingwood for brekky.  Smith Street was heaving with people and the wait staff were clearly run off their feet.

The scene brought to mind the rumblings I’ve noticed in the media lately that suggest Sunday penalty rates might be on their way out.

The National Productivity Commission says the idea that Sunday is a national ‘rest day’ is outdated and has recommended that Sunday rates be cut back to match Saturday rates.  Business owners say that Sunday penalty rates are crippling their business, making it impossible for them to open and make a profit. From where I sat on Sunday, it was pretty clear to me that for a busy Collingwood café, having a profitable Sunday trade certainly isn’t an issue.

But what about cafes and restaurants that aren’t lucky enough to enjoy the same level of Sunday foot traffic as a café on Smith Street?  I can imagine that for them, paying penalty rates on a slow day would be a blow to the hip pocket.  But does that mean that workers who are giving up their Sunday with family and friends should be penalized?  I don’t think so.

I personally treasure my Sundays with friends and family and I think it would be a shame for our society if we were to actively redefine Sunday as a ‘non rest day.’

So how do we come up with a solution for the hospitality industry that is fair for both businesses and workers?

Two words: Sunday surcharge.

Many cafes already do it, so why not make it across the board and government endorsed?   People aren’t going to give up their Sunday morning café ritual because of a few extra dollars added to the bill and it would mean both business owners and workers get a fair deal.

Just like the GST that was initially met with a public backlash, but was ultimately accepted, I believe that the public would come around to a widespread Sunday surcharge at restaurants and cafes.

Religion aside – let’s ensure our Sundays stay sacred.