Region's retail workers could lose $12.5m in income

THE FIGHT over potential cuts to penalty rates is heating up, with new research showing a hit of up to $12.5 million to local retail workers' hip pockets if current weekend and public holiday rates are reduced.

Research commissioned by the retail workers' union shows the Page electorate, which includes Ballina, Lismore, Casino and Grafton, could lose up to $5.9 million in disposable income alone if rates were cut across the retail sector.

A Productivity Commission report has recommended retail and hospitality workers take a cut on penalty rates and in recent days Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was on the table.

While there's no legislation in the pipeline to cut rates, Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash indicated cuts would be put to the polling booths at the next election.

Manager of the Northern Rivers Business Chamber, John Murray who supported some changes, said high Sunday rates were "killing this region" by keeping small businesses closed on weekends.

He described Northern Rivers towns as "ghost towns" on weekends despite visitors wanting to come and spend money.

"When the shop doors are closed no one wins," Mr Murray said.

"The employees don't get any income at all.

"We are faced with a situation where the penalty rates as they exist are unsustainable."

A spokeswoman from the retail worker's union said cutting rates would have a worse impact on the economy. "We're talking about low paid workers who rely on penalty rates to make ends meet," the spokeswoman said.

"In a community like Ballina, you are taking money off people who are spending in your stores."

Retail workers make up 14% of the local workforce. A third work in food retailing, with the big employers such as Coles and Woolworths regularly open on weekends.

The research estimates if rates were cut entirely the region would lose up to $35 million, with $14.7 million in disposable income.

Page MP Kevin Hogan said he was "open to having a real discussion" on the issue and listening to both sides.

Mr Hogan said the options weren't limited to only cutting rates, but also increasing base rates at the same time to compensate.

"We're certainly not locked into any specific position," he said.

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