It looks like the federal government is worried the row on penalty rates will be another WorkChoices

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images.

The Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has personally contacted the head of the Business Council of Australia seeking her organisation’s support to fight the campaign by Labor and the unions against the decision to pare back Sunday and public holiday penalty rates.

The Australian Financial Review has been told that Senator Cash rang BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott on Monday night asking for her help.

“The minister speaks with numerous stakeholders on a regular basis in relation to matters relevant to her portfolio,” a spokesman for Senator Cash confirmed.

“As part of this discussion they discussed the disgraceful misinformation campaign being waged by unions in relation to the Fair Work Commission’s penalty rate decision.”

Australia’s minister for Employment Michaelia Cash. PhotoL Saeed KHAN/ AFP/ Getty Images.

It is understood Ms Westacott was sympathetic but not keen to campaign, if only because the BCA’s 127 members, which are the nation’s largest businesses, are not directly affected by the decision.

Senator Cash’s office has also been in touch with officials from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry which, like the BCA, has long advocated industrial relations reforms, inlcuding paring back penalty rates.

The Financial Review revealed on Tuesday that senior members of the Coalition are afraid the government alone will be left to endure a repeat of the 2007 union-led WorkChoices campaign which played a significant role in the end of the Howard government.

They say business groups which spent years advocating the change need to step up.

Last week, former Treasury secretary and NAB chairman Ken Henry decried modern politics as a “dreadful spectacle” and said business needed to step up and help deliver the policies it supported.

The Fair Work Commission decision pared back rates in just four of 122 awards but 680,000 people will suffer a loss of take-home pay. The sectors affected were fast food, hospitality, retail and pharmacies.

Labor, which has promised to reverse the decision of the Fair Work Commission to cut Sunday rates in hospitality, retail, fast food and pharmacy, has already joined the unions in a campaign which contrasts the cuts to Sunday rates to plans to reduce company tax and phase out the income tax deficit levy for high-income earners on June 30.

The government is not defending the decision. Instead, it insists the independence of the Fair Work Commission must be respected and Labor was to blame because when it was in office it established the commission and the review process.

But Labor and many in the government believe the government is politically vulnerable because it made no submission to the review and now it has no plans to back legislation to have the decision overturned.

This article was originally published on the Australian Financial Review. Read the original here, or follow the AFR on Facebook.

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