Saturday, February 21, 2015

Big Business Attack On Weekend Rates Of Pay – Give Them An Inch, They’ll Want A Mile, But They Won’t Get It

Ned K.

One of the key battlegrounds in the class struggle at the moment is the attack on weekend rates of pay by big business. Big business and their parliamentary friends led by Abbott frame this attack to make it seem that weekend rates of pay are a “penalty” on hard working small businesses.
The working people in Australia are not impressed by this argument and can see that it is yet another case of transferring a greater share of the wealth from wages to profits.  
 South Australian workers lead the way
In the last SA state election campaign in March 2014, progressive workers in their unions conducted a very visible campaign against Nick Xenophon’s attempt to win votes for his SA team by promoting a cut to weekend rates of pay as equating to an increase in jobs! The public response to the campaign against cuts to weekend rates was extremely successful. In fact the ALP Premier Jay Weatherill said words to the effect that the workers’ campaign was the ‘game changer’ in the election outcome. Abbott and his big business masters have not learned from this recent history. Relentlessly they continue with their line that weekend rates of pay cost jobs and hurt small business.
Is It Small Business Or Big Business Leading The Charge Against Weekend Rates Of Pay?
Big business is focusing on the retail industry to spearhead its assault on weekend rate of pay in general. Most small retail businesses pay workers under the award minimum standard (General Retail Industry Award) and have done so for decades.
The rates of pay in the award for Saturday are 25% more than Monday to Friday rates of pay. For Sunday the rates of pay are double time. Small businesses have factored this in to their cost structures for decades. It is not wages that have increased astronomically for small retail businesses, but increases in running costs of utilities and their supplier costs.
Take bread for instance. Woolworths and Coles pay a significantly lower unit cost for a loaf of bread than does the small cafe struggling to survive in a shopping mall or main road shopping strip where they have to pay exorbitant rent to a parasitic landlord like Westfield.
In fact it is big business retailers who have been leading the charge against weekend and other shift rates of pay for over two decades.
In the late 1980s and 1990s the big department stores like Myer and the big food retailers like Woolworths and Coles made applications to reduce Saturday rates of pay from time and one half to time and one quarter, the current 25% Saturday rate of pay in the award.
Then along came enterprise bargaining which these big retailers used to whittle away weekend rates and extend ordinary hours of work, thereby minimising higher shift pay rates.
How were they able to get away with this?  Enterprise bargaining divided the retail workers in an industry which is characterised by thousands of inexperienced young workers, some still at school. The introduction of enterprise bargaining coincided with an employer class attack on preference to unionists clauses in awards and ‘outlawing’ of the ‘closed shop’.
This situation weakened the bargaining power of all unions in collective agreement making, not to mention the anti-strike laws in the country. In the retail industry, the retail workers’ union, the SDA, entered bargaining with each of the big retailers having the ability to quickly de-unionise the industry if they chose through the withdrawal of pay roll deductions of union dues. This would not only have crippled the SDA financially but weakened the SDA’s right wing faction of the ALP with a history of Industrial Grouper influence within it.
In one sense it suited the big retailers to maintain strong membership numbers in the SDA as this indirectly helped to maintain right wing tendencies within the ALP.
Big Retailers Have Already Attacked Saturday Rates Of Pay
However competition between the big retailers and the motivation to maximise their profits has seen them use the enterprise bargaining process to take away weekend rates of pay for Saturday work.
The existing Enterprise Agreements of Aldii, Coles, Bunnings and Woolworths to name a few already have no additional rates of pay for Saturday work between 5am or 6am and 10pm in the late evening.
These big business Enterprise Agreements also have taken away overtime rates of pay by enabling the boss to roster a retail worker up to 48 hours in a week without the payment of overtime.
Not satisfied with this redistribution of wealth from wages to profits, the big retailers are now after workers’ Sunday rates of pay which are still at the standard of double time won by workers many decades ago.
 Workers United Will Defend Weekend Rates Of Pay
In 2015, retail workers have many workers in other industries who will unite with them to defeat the general ruling big business class offensive to transfer more wealth from wages to profits through an attack on weekend rates, Sunday rates in particular.
This time around, the likes of Coles and Woolworths will not just be confronted by an isolated section of the workforce in a single employer enterprise agreement negotiation in order to try and further reduce pay. They will be confronted by workers and their unions covering not only retail, but hospitality, health, construction and many more.
United in struggle, workers and their unions will defeat big business in this key battleground of the class struggle.

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