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The weekend warriors who give up their lives | thetelegraph.com.au | #AuUnions

ARE you humiliated by living in a country where your waitress gets paid more for working Sundays?

Well, you should be, according to the NSW Business Chamber.

Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright has described weekend penalty rates as an embarrassment.

The chamber supports a move to limit weekend penalties. In doing so, Cartwright joins other crusaders who have donned the armour to abolish penalties, including Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett and Australian Mines and Metals Association head Steve Knott.

Lowly paid workers in the hospitality industry should not get special treatment for working on the weekend, their argument goes, because it’s “strangling” small business. Sydney is a caffeine-free wasteland on Sundays because cafes and restaurants can’t afford to open. And unemployment is being driven up by people who could be employed on weekends, earning 50 per cent less than currently mandated.

Such an onslaught of righteous indignation makes you wonder how on earth Australians were silly enough to adopt weekend penalty rates in the first place.

The logic of it seems to genuinely baffle those leading the charge. If electricity doesn’t cost more on the weekend, if water doesn’t go up, if the rent stays the same, why should the cost of people change?

For those who view humans as just another cog in the business machine, it does not compute, and that’s because they have failed to ask themselves a fundamental question: Why do we have weekends in the first place?

Some time ago, modern Western civilisation came to the conclusion that it was reasonable for people to have two days off each week to do the things that made their lives worth living.

Not just any two days off: the same two days off.

Having the same allocated days off is vital, because when people are not working they typically want to spend time with other people who are not working.

But, of course, the weekend ideal cannot apply for everyone. In order to relax on Saturdays and Sundays, the majority of the workforce needs someone to pour their drinks, cook their food and pack their shopping bags.

Anyone who has worked in hospitality will tell you pulling weekend shifts comes at a high cost. If you work on those special two days you will miss out on life’s special occasions: birthday parties, barbecues, nights on the town.

After a long, hard-fought campaign by unions, Australian society came to a reasonable conclusion: If you miss out on the weekend, you should be compensated.Yet confusion and non-acceptance still reign in some business circles. Their befuddlement becomes extreme when national polls show Australian support for penalty rates ranks somewhere between Tim Tams and organised sport. Almost 80 per cent of people believe people should get paid more for working on the weekend.

This extraordinary approval level comes despite the fact that for the vast majority, penalty rates do not directly affect their working lives. The average Monday-to-Friday office worker may have to work weekends every now and then, but they typically will not get penalty rates.

Penalties mainly affect those who keep things ticking over while the rest of us are at play, especially hospitality workers. And while some people can make great careers in the hospitality industry, the fact is that a lot of these workers are among our worst paid and least powerful.

We feel more comfortable eating Sunday breakfast at our favourite cafe knowing that our waitress is being fairly compensated for not being able to enjoy the day as well. We don’t want to live under a American-style system in which waiters have to throw themselves on the mercy of an arbitrary tipping system to scrape up to the poverty line.

Business lobbyists seem to think they can push through changes that suit their interests simply by shouting loudly enough.

However, they will need to upturn two deeply entrenched Australian values: love of the weekend and respect for a fair go.Good luck with that.

Mark Lennon is Unions NSW secretary

About Darin Sullivan (1968 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. Father of two daughters, he lives and works on the NSW South Coast, Australia. He is a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around him. He is a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and works with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist he has long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. Now a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and has decades of experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. He is passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. Darin is also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.

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