25 March 2015, Written by Jenna Rathbone


GOLD Coast business owners are supporting a policy shift in South Australia to abolish penalty rates on the weekend.

The SA deal will see the end of Saturday penalties and the halving of those paid on Sundays, while retail workers will be offered higher base rates of pay and improved conditions. These include the right to refuse weekend work on Sundays and public holidays.

Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce President Peter Yared (pictured below) says it is a landmark agreement which will benefit small to medium-sized businesses and is urging the Labor Government to follow in the footsteps of its sister state.

"Penalty rates on Sundays and public holidays is a major issue facing small businesses and, in order to give business owners a fighting chance, they need to be dropped," says Yared, general manager of The Grand Chancellor.

"I have noticed that a lot of business owners either refuse to open on the weekends or reduce staff in an attempt to survive.  But by reducing staff, you are reducing the standard of service and this can be detrimental to the overall business.

"Penalty rates are ultimately a real barrier to retailers and shop owners opening and employing people of the weekends and public holidays, and, in a lot of circumstances, it is leading to business closures and ultimately unemployment.

"South Australia has recognised that in order for businesses to not only survive but flourish, they need that option to drop penalty rates."

Dean Hyland, founder and owner of Barefoot Barista café in Palm Beach which employs more than 30 staff, agrees with Yared and recently made the decision to close his business on public holidays.

Hyland also reduces staff on weekends, which he says can in turn impact service, and adds that he and his wife take on a lot of the slack on weekends to avoid paying staff extra wages.

"In a place like the Gold Coast where hospitality is an important part of the tourism mix, it is important that we are able to trade," says Hyland.

"We do a great turnover but we lose money purely because of the wages.

"It would certainly make it a lot easier to run our business if penalty rates were abolished. We would be able to staff our business properly on Saturday and Sunday and ultimately it would lead to more employment."

Employment lawyer Brett Wilson says the pay deal in SA does not mean changes will follow in other states and says there are unique differences between the weekend penalty rates market in SA and areas such as the Gold Coast.

The biggest difference is the size of the tourism market on the Gold Coast.  

"The Gold Coast has a lot of nightclubs, late night restaurants, theme parks, and there's a younger crowd and more demand for late night venues and weird hours. They regard weekends as a day when everything should be open for them and business has to compete for their dollars," says Wilson, of Gold Coast and Sydney employment law firm Adams Wilson Lawyers.

"Therefore, in SA, a weekend penalty rates deal could be negotiated as there might not be that much overtime from night work and weekends, therefore less to give in exchange for a higher base wage.  It's all in the numbers."

In light of this, the Fair Work Ombudsman has urged employers and employees to check pay rates and entitlements that apply over the upcoming Easter holidays.

"It is important for employers to be fully aware of the minimum pay rates that apply to their employees, otherwise they can end up facing bills for back-payments of wages they weren't budgeting for," says Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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