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Proposed Cuts To Penalty Rates Demonstrate The Inherent Contradictions Within Capitalism

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Ned K.

So far in the federal election campaign for the spoils of office, the issue of employer attempts to cut weekend penalty rates have not featured prominently in the mainstream media. However, at the grass roots level, the unions campaign Save Our Weekends No Cuts To Penalty Rates continues to have widespread community support.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have signed petitions in support of no cuts to weekend pay rates. The Turnbull government says it is a matter for the Fair Work Commission to determine. Bill Shorten stated that if he was Prime Minister, Labor would respect the Fair Work Commission's decision.

So fundamentally both major parliamentary parties have the same position on the issue of cutting workers' weekend pay rates. There are differences between them on how to implement the cuts.

The employers in hospitality and retail industry, where any reduction in weekend rates will have a big impact on working people's family income, are pretty confident the 'independent umpire' will order a cut to Sunday penalty rates. The Australian Financial Review on Thursday 12 May reported that employers are now arguing among themselves on how to implement the reduced rates of pay. The large supermarket chains have said that their existing permanent workers should have the right to refuse to work Sundays when reduced penalty rates are implemented (not if implemented!). This sounds very noble of the large retailers and appears that they care about their permanent workers. However what they do not say is that the rate of pay for most of their permanent workers on a Saturday in their Enterprise Agreements has no penalty rate at all! Secondly the big retailers want the right of refusal by permanent workers to work on Sundays to only last for 2 years. With turnover of labor, how many existing permanents will still be working with the same employer?

The Pharmacy Guild, effectively representing the big drug distribution employers and the Australian Industry Group submitted to Fair Work Commission that Sunday was no different from a Saturday and therefore no worker should have any right of refusal to work a rostered shift on a Sunday.

It is possible that the big retailers are confident in filling Sunday shifts with "flexible" casual labour and juniors while the Pharmacy Guild are concerned they may have a shortage of skilled labour on Sundays if workers have the right to refuse Sunday shifts when (not if) the cuts to Sunday rates become operational.

At a more general level, some sections of big business are complaining that the economy is "sluggish" (sales and profits down) and that part of the reason for this is "low wages growth" They fail to see that this argument is contrary to a 25 percent drop in pay that a Sunday worker will receive if/when Sunday penalty rates are reduced as a direct result of employer submissions to the Fair Work Commission.

What it boils down to is that each capitalist or industry group of capitalists wants to keep wages to a minimum for the workers they employ but wants "wages growth" generally speaking to realise profits by people buying their products or services.

This is also the message coming through in enterprise bargaining negotiations around the country in most sectors. One employer after the other argues that the inflation rate is low and that their competitors are paying lower wage increases in enterprise agreements so to remain "competitive" they must do the same. 

However in the same breath they argue that sales of their products or services are down. When their workers' bargaining representatives reply that a decent wage increase is need to enable workers to pay for the things they and their families need, there is silence form the other side of the table.

A comrade summed up this situation which will remain as long as capitalism exists in the following words:  "Oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight".

Whoever wins the spoils of parliamentary office in the coming federal election, the fight between oppressor and oppressed will continue until the oppressor is vanished from society completely by the collective organised power of the people led by the workers whichever days of the week they work on.



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