BANKING ON IT: The Bank Cafe in Lismore did a roaring trade over Easter.
BANKING ON IT: The Bank Cafe in Lismore did a roaring trade over Easter.

As sure as eggs the topic of penalty rates raised at Easter

AS RELIABLE as mud at Bluesfest, you can count on debate over penalty rates to flare up every Easter Long weekend in the tourist-driven Northern Rivers.

Business lobby groups said penalty rates are a 'crippling' and prohibitive burden for business, while union representatives argue the extra income is essential for workers' survival in an increasingly 'casualised' workforce.

Increased regular pay

Employers in NSW will pay their employees penalty rates on four days this Easter with public holiday penalty rates of up to two and a half times regular pay.

John Murray of the Northern Rivers NSW Chamber of Commerce, said he is awaiting feedback from surveys of the various chambers, but observed "A lot of shops have closed' this Easter.

"They can't afford to open during this peak tourist period. The Northern Rivers has a reputation as a ghost town, which is a loss for the tourist industry," he said.

"Large numbers of visitors who come and stay here over Easter are denied access to services over four days."

QLD businesses thrive

Interestingly, The Queensland Chamber of Commerce has found that businesses do not close on public holidays to combat penalty rates, but in Queensland open "as long as the sun is shining" and conditions are conducive to attracting tourists.

Lismore City Council mayor Jenny Dowell said, "The cafes that choose to open in Lismore on a public holiday all seem to be doing well. They open because it's financially worth their while to do so. Penalty rates in my view, are sometimes used as an excuse not to open when in reality, businesses want a few days off- and that's ok. Thanks to those business owners and their staff who are serving those on holidays today."

Local union representatives argue workers cannot survive without penalty rates.

Naomi Worrall, Northern Rivers Unionist Network (NRUN) said penalty rates are an essential part of people's take home income.

Working unsociable hours

"These are people who work unsociable hours serving or helping others," she said.

"They rely on penalty rates to put food on their tables. Stripping penalty rates would mean that those who work in sectors that are not considered emergency services, such as disability support workers, would not have enough income to get by and could be forced to look for other jobs.

"No one wants to work unsociable hours. People who seek that work do so because they have limited options because of other commitments.

"People such as students, carers or single parents rely on penalty rates to meet basic living costs and can't afford to lose 30% of their income.

"With around half of low incomes workers relying on penalty rates and in areas such as the Northern Rivers, the cutting of penalty rates means a lot of money out of our local economy."

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