Friday 30 September's Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported that Fair Work Commission President Ian Ross was looking favourably at "loaded" hourly rates to replace penalty rates on weekends. He was speaking at a “Retail Summit" organised by the AFR attended by retail employer associations, and the ACTU among others.
Ross's comments come after further delays in the Fair Work Commission deciding what it is going to do regarding the review of weekend penalty rates in retail and hospitality awards. There have been 6,000 submissions to Fair Work Commission regarding the review of these two awards. Ross, like the Turnbull Government, is aware of the backlash from the people if penalty rates on weekends are slashed.
Therefore why not reduce weekend wages by appearing to increase them through a 'loaded' rate, he contemplates?
"Loaded" hourly rates of pay are nothing new as a way to transfer wealth from wages of workers to profits of capitalists, large or small, particularly in the retail and other services sectors.
In the mid-1990s, the Retail Traders Association, then representing mainly large employers, was successful in reducing the award penalty rates for shop assistants in South Australia from 50% loading on Saturday afternoon and 25% loading on Saturday mornings to zero. In exchange the base award hourly rate was increased by 6% and employers could roster workers over 6 days of the week instead of 5 days Monday to Friday.
This "loaded" hourly rate was fine for workers only working Monday to Friday but with high turnover of labour in the retail sector, employers quickly turned this reduction in Saturday penalty rates to their advantage by requiring newly employed workers to include Saturdays in their roster of ordinary hours.
Big retailers like Coles and Woolworths have tried to "perfect" this downward trend in retail workers' wages through enterprise agreements supported by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) which does not provide a good union experience for the many thousands of young workers in the industry.
In some other industries such as security, the "loaded" hourly rate has been a feature of many Enterprise Agreements imposed on workers who often work most of their hours on weekends and/or on afternoon or night shifts. How employers have these Agreements approved by the Commission is by a combination of a deliberate lack of checking the Agreements by the Commission or through laziness, or by the employer presenting atypical rosters of workers employed only working Monday to Friday on day work ( a rarity in the security industry.
The whole weekend penalty rates "review" is exposing the "fair day's pay for a fair day's work" mantra of capitalism's spokespersons as the myth it is. The longer it goes on, the more people question it and see it for the deception it is.
Disguising the myth with talk of a "loaded" rate of pay will educate thousands more people about the fundamental unfairness of capitalism.