By David Bates

I’ve written about penalty rates in this column on a number of occasions, but it still amazes me just how many employees (and employers too for that matter) still genuinely believe Labor supports penalty rates and that the Coalition wants to get rid of them. 

So this week, I want to set the record straight once and for all with some clear facts. No, not opinion. Facts.

Fact 1: Since the election of the Coalition back in 2013, there have been two major reviews of Australia’s ‘Fair Work’ employment relations system and the associated Modern Awards:

a) a Productivity Commission Report, commissioned by Tony Abbott when he was Prime Minister, 


b) the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) ‘Four Yearly Review’ of Modern Awards, which it is legally-required to undertake by the Fair Work Act 2009 – a piece of legislation introduced by the former (Labor) Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government, in which Bill Shorten served (for a time) as the relevant Minister.

Fact 2: The Productivity Commission Report initiated by the Coalition recommended only a very minor change to penalty rates: making some Sunday penalty rates in some Modern Awards for some employees the same as Saturday penalty rates (nope, I can’t see the sky falling down either).

Fact 3: The FWC’s current review of Sunday penalty rates in a tiny number of Awards was triggered by a piece of Labor legislation: the Fair Work Act 2009.

Fact 4: The FWC is only considering very minor adjustments to some Sunday penalty rates, similar to the proposal which was put forward by the Productivity Commission.

Fact 5: The FWC is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal. If the Commission decides to reduce some Sunday penalty rates, that decision needs to be respected by everyone.

Fact 6: Malcolm Turnbull has expressly stated he will respect the FWC’s decision, and the Coalition has no plans to ‘slash’, ‘destroy’ or ‘steal’ penalty rates.

Fact 7: Bill Shorten has expressly stated he respects the Fair Work Commission’s independence, but that he also doesn’t believe they’ll decide to reduce Sunday penalty rates. When a reporter asked him what he and Labor would do if the independent FWC did, in fact, decided to reduce Sunday penalty rates, he said ‘Well, sorry, what if alien life makes contact with Earth’ (yes, his actual response).

Fact 8: Many unions bankrolling the Labor party’s campaign claim they ‘defend’ workers’ penalty rates. Um, apparently not. Just ask the 30,000 casual and part-time employees at Coles who have had their union-negotiated Enterprise Agreement effectively thrown in the bin by the FWC guessed slashed penalty rates for workers (the hypocrisy here is breathtaking).

So let’s be clear. Penalty rates are not being wiped out (other than by some unions), and Labor will respect the independence of the FWC (as long as it sides with them). Oh, and aliens might land before election day. 

Good grief.