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“Excessive” penalty rates under attack

By Tang Li

The NSW Business Chamber launched an Easter campaign to end “excessive penalty rates” last weekend as the contentious issue picks up steam in public debate.

Dozens of restaurants, cafes and small businesses closed over the Easter long weekend in protest against penality rates that have seen junior staff paid up to $50 an hour for working on holidays.

The participating businesses were given posters to put up in their windows that either apologised to customers for being closed or explained that they were only able to stay open by having family members serve customers.

“We know that the Easter break . . . will create enormous pressure on the owners of cafes, restaurants and shops who want to remain open to serve their customers, but at the same time simply can’t afford to open their doors due to the excessive penalty rates for their staff,” NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said.

But bartender Jakob Gaykowski, who worked 17 hours at Li’l Darlin in Surry Hills last weekend, said the higher pay was a good incentive.

“It’s harder work on holidays, so the higher payment means I can swallow the pain,” he said.

Mr Cartwright said the NSW Business Chamber’s submission to the Fair Work Commission did not call for a full abolition of penalty rates.

“We believe that sensible penalty rates should be paid for certain weekend and public holiday times, however it’s ridiculous that penalty rates are now so excessive that businesses are forced to close to avoid making losses,” he said.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Kate Carnell said the rates meant customers lost access to services, workers got less hours and businesses got “little benefit” from holiday traffic.

Mr Cartwright said the excessive cost of employing staff remained the number one issue for business owners across NSW.

“This has a direct correlation to the unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment in many parts of our state,” he said.

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