WA Liberal MPs are backing a push from business groups to cut Sunday penalty rates, saying they no longer reflected the reality of the modern workforce.
The campaign comes as Queensland coalition MP Andrew Laming suggested the work for the dole scheme should be expanded to be a source of cheap labour for small businesses.
Tony Abbott emphasised yesterday that any decision on penalty rates was a matter for the workplace umpire.
"We must boost productivity if we're going to pay our way in the world successfully but penalty rates are a matter for the Fair Work Commission and people are perfectly entitled to bring applications to the Fair Work Commission to ensure that their businesses are profitable and they can continue to maximise employment," the Prime Minister said.
Despite Mr Abbott's reticence, coalition backbenchers have welcomed employer groups' stepping up their effort to shift community sentiment and lobby the commission to reduce penalty rates across a range of industries.
Moore MP Ian Goodenough said many hospitality business owners in his electorate, such as shops at Hillarys Boat Harbour, cited penalty rates as a big barrier to Sunday trading.
"They're a bit reluctant to open their coffee shops or restaurants on public holidays and weekends because it can cost up to $50 to $60 to put a staff member on and they have got no guarantee their cafe or restaurant is going to be full," he said.
Senator Dean Smith said that the 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday working week was no longer the norm.
"Some West Australians may choose to work different, more flexible hours for a variety of reasons that suit their own personal circumstances and our system should reflect these contemporary economic realities," he said.
Senator Chris Back said West Australians had embraced Sunday trading and cutting penalty rates would create more opportunities for people who could not work Monday to Fridays to get a job at weekends.
Shadow workplace relations minister Brendan O'Connor accused the Government of wanting to scrap penalty rates for thousands of workers.
"Rather than allow the umpire to make considered decisions, this Government is cheering on big business in this country to cut conditions of employment for Australian workers," he said.
To cover the extra wage costs of a Sunday shift, Lidio Fiore’s camera shop needs to make $125 more profit every hour.
He said the business case just did not stack up at his Camera House in Leederville, except during the pre-Christmas shopping period.
It was especially difficult in his industry where he had to sell some items at no profit, or even 5 per cent below cost, to compete with online retailers.
“Sundays are a killer,” Mr Fiore said. “We find that when we open on Sunday we have the same amount of shoppers each week but they are spread out over a longer period.”
He said he needed about five staff to run a Sunday shift, with the highly-trained retail staff alternating between the shop and its upstairs cafe, and earning double time rates of $50 an hour on Sundays.
“We want to offer the best service at the best price, but that is difficult with Sunday rates,” Mr Fiore said.
UnionsWA secretary Meredith Hammat defended penalty rates, claiming they helped low-paid workers make ends meet.
“Changes to trading hours were called for by employers and introduced by the Barnett Government under the existing system for weekend pay,” she said.
“Businesses need to make their own decisions about whether or not trading within given hours is beneficial to their strategy for profits. In doing so, they should continue to take account of the need for low-paid workers to be adequately remunerated and to have time with family and in the community.”
Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Deidre Willmott said penalty rates were forcing many businesses to stay closed on Sundays, undermining opportunities for workers and shoppers.
Commerce Minister Michael Mischin said the State Government had no plans to scrap penalty rates for workers on WA awards.