Australia's biggest union just agreed to cut the huge penalty rates for some retail staff

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Australia’s largest union will cut weekend penalty rates for South Australia’s retail industry, with the agreement laying the foundation for other states to follow suit.

The high rates of pay for workers on weeknights and Sundays have long been a core complaint of businesses across Australia, who say staff costs make it uneconomical to trade when penalties apply.

It’s significant because the union involved – the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), or “shoppies” as they’re known – has a national footprint and is influential in the broader Labor and union movement.

The Australian reports the agreement, formed with the state chamber of commerce, will see Saturday penalty rates rescinded and Sunday rates halved in place of a higher base rate and contract advancements.

From the Oz:

It reduces penalty rates for Sundays from a 100 per cent loading to 50 per cent, cuts public holiday rates from 150 per cent to 100 per cent, and abolishes penalty rates on Saturdays and weekday evenings.

In exchange, workers will ­receive a higher base wage than under the award, a guaranteed 3 per cent annual pay rise, and an unprecedented right to refuse to work on Sundays and public holidays. It also gives permanent workers the right to every second weekend off.

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said the ability to refuse to work the weekend and public holidays was an important development for retail workers.

“Voluntary work on a Sunday in the retail industry in this country is an amazing step forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if other branches might be interested in doing something similar,” Dwyer said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Kate Carnell is hoping this could be the beginning of revisions to penalty rates in the retail and other sectors around the country.

The Productivity Commission is currently reviewing penalty rates for a range of sectors, and businesses are lobbying for revisions to some of the key penalties, especially in the hospitality industry.

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