Malcolm Turnbull has given unambiguous support to cutting Sunday penalty rates after weeks of trying to skirt around the Fair Work Commission’s decision.
With the Government split over how hard it should spruik the benefits of the cut, the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday were the first time he had given such an explicit endorsement.
Labor and the unions are campaigning hard against the commission’s decision, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten promising to overturn it.
The commission last month ordered that Sunday and public holiday penalty rates be cut for hundreds of thousands of retail, fast-food, hospitality and pharmacy workers from July, saying it would encourage more businesses to trade on those days.
The Government was flat-footed as the labour movement began campaigning against the decision in echoes of its anti-WorkChoices pitch from a decade ago.
Mr Turnbull tried to attack Mr Shorten as a hypocrite for referring the issue of penalty rates to the commission and not accepting the umpire’s decision. He then said the Government would push the commission to phase in the reduction over several years to preserve workers’ take-home pay.
Backbenchers were unhappy the Government was not doing enough to prosecute the case for the pay cut and the economic boost it would provide to businesses and job creation.
Asked yesterday by Melbourne radio host Neil Mitchell whether he supported the cut or not, Mr Turnbull was unequivocal.
“Well we do support it, Neil, and I’ve been very clear about that,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The Fair Work Commission decided to back small business and we back small business.”
Mr Turnbull confirmed yesterday the Government would make a submission to the commission on the transition to soften the blow on workers.
Mr Shorten accused Mr Turnbull of a double standard for not trying to overturn the penalty rate decision when he intervened over pay rates for truck drivers and Victorian firefighters.