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Sunday penalty rates for cafe, entertainment and retail workers could fall to the same level as Saturdays under changes proposed by the Productivity Commission report into workplace laws.

Employees would be also able to take public holidays at a different time with full penalty rates and negotiate for longer annual leave in lieu of pay rises under proposed changes to Australia’s workplace relations framework.

The Productivity Commission into workplace relations released its draft report on Tuesday, detailing a wide range of potential changes to the workplace relations laws. This included changes to national employment standards, including allowing all modern award employees to agree to swap particular public holidays for other days with their employers. Federal, state and territory governments should also jointly see whether the 20-day annual leave period could be extended, or negotiated with employees to replace certain wage increases, the report said.

Penalty rates for cafe, entertainment and retail workers on Sundays – usually double the rate of their base pay – could fall to the same level as Saturdays. This would not include other workers, including emergency workers such as paramedics. The Fair Work Commission would ultimately decide on regulating penalty rates and would review this every four years, in line with other rates.

While workers were once compensated for working on Sundays because the community previously did not accept a seven-day work week was necessary, demand for weekend services had grown over the past few decades, with more women in the workforce, lower levels of church goers and longer shopping hours.

The commission expected employment and hours worked on Sundays to grow as a result.

Given high levels of competition, consumers, not businesses would ultimately benefit from deregulated penalty rates, particularly “more convenient access to services and in some cases lower prices” says Commission chairman Peter Harris.

The commission found serious flaws in the structure of the workplace umpire, the Fair Work Commission, including systematic biases of commissioners depending on whether they were drawn from employer or employee ranks.

“The appointment process for commission members is clearly flawed, and has resulted in inconsistencies between members’ decisions,” the Productivity Commission said in a statement. “This has raised questions about the fairness of the umpire.”

It recommended removing tenure for its President, Vice and Deputy Presidents and Commissioners, who could be employed for five-year periods, after which they could possibly be re-appointed. Non-judicial members should also be given performance reviews depending on how long they had been employed.

Commissioners drawn from the union movement were more inclined to uphold unfair dismissal claims, Mr Harris said.

The commission also proposed a new model for smaller businesses to negotiate agreements around award rates with their employees, called “enterprise contracts”. It found that unlike larger organisations, small businesses rarely engaged in enterprise bargaining because they found the concept “confronting”.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald 4/8/2015

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