By David Bates

Last Thursday’s decision by the national employment relations tribunal, the Fair Work Commission, to reduce penalty rates for some employees on Sundays and public holidays was completely unsurprising to all of us who have followed the Commission’s work in this area.

Equally unsurprising was the near hysterical reaction of both unions and the members of the political party owned and operated by the unions.

So, let’s pause for just a few minutes and look at the cold, hard facts.

Fact #1: The only reason the Commission looked into penalty rates at all was because Bill Shorten told it to! Back when he was Employment Minister in the last Labor government, Bill Shorten expressly directed the Commission to look at penalty rates when it conducted its first four-year review of Modern Awards. Talk about an own goal.

Fact #2: In April 2016, Mr Shorten stated unequivocally that he respected the independence of the Fair Work Commission, and promised neither he, nor his party, would stand in the way of any reductions to penalty rates if these were ordered by the Fair Work Commission. It seems his promise to respect and preserve the independence of the Commission didn’t go down too well with his comrades in the union movement.

Fact #3: On the night of the Commission’s decision, Mr Shorten invited a young retail worker to front the cameras and explain how ‘gutted’ he was by the Commission’s decision. The only problem was that the young man works for Coles and is covered by an Enterprise Agreement. As a result, the Commission’s decision actually doesn’t impact him at all. #oops

Fact #4: The Enterprise Agreement which covered the young man in question was negotiated between the SDA (the militant retail union) and Coles. And guess what? That Agreement had long ago reduced penalty rates to below the Modern Award rates. Put another way, the union had already cut penalty rates for precisely the same employees they now claim will be devastated by the Commission’s decision to do exactly the same thing. Now that’s embarrassing.

Fact #5: Only employees covered by 5 of the 122 Modern Awards are affected by the Commission’s decision. Furthermore, we don’t even know yet when the changes to Sunday penalty rates will apply because the Commission hasn’t made up its mind. The changes to public holiday penalty rates will apply from 1 July this year.

Fact #6: Penalty rates have not been abolished! The Commission has announced reductions in some penalty rates paid to employees covered by some Modern Awards some of the time. The sky is not falling down. The sun will rise tomorrow. And the person most responsible for the Commission making the decision to reduce penalty rates is the Hon Bill Shorten, who never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.