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Experts Tell Government To Give Sunday Penalty Rates The Chop

A final report into penalty rates was released on Monday.

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The productivity commission has recommended slashing Sunday penalty rates to bring them into line with Saturday pay in some low-paid industries such as retail and hospitality.

The recommendation forms a key plank of the final Productivity Commission report into workplace relations, and is likely to set the stage for a fight over workers' pay and conditions at the upcoming election due to be held in late 2016.

"Penalty rates have a legitimate role in compensating employees for working long hours or at asocial times," the report states.

"However, Sunday penalty rates for hospitality, entertainment, retailing, restaurants and cafes are inconsistent across similar work, anachronistic in the context of changing consumer preferences, and frustrate the job aspirations of the unemployed and those who are only available for work on Sunday.

"Rates should be aligned with those on Saturday, creating a weekend rate for each of the relevant industries."

The report does not recommend any changes to overtime penalty rates, night penalty rates or shift loadings.

In releasing the report, workplace relations minister Michaelia Cash criticised "scaremongering" from Labor and unions, pointing out that the Fair Work Commission, not the government, sets penalty rates.

"I remind everybody that this is a report to the government, it is not a report by the government," she said on Monday.

"It is a substantial report and it has been prepared after extensive public submission and consultation processes. For example, more than 20 unions including the peak Australian union body the ACTU participated in the review by making detailed submissions."

Cash said the government would seek a mandate at the next election before recommending any changes to penalty rates.

"Any changes that are made to the workplace relations framework should continue to ensure that Australia remains a high wage, a high productivity, a 21st century economy with a strong safety net," she said.

But the opposition and unions are gearing up for a fight.

Dean Lewins / AAPIMAGE

"Let's be very clear about this. If Malcolm Turnbull and this government, does not want to support cutting penalty rates, then they can reject the recommendation of the Productivity Commission today," Labor's workplace spokesman Brendan O'Connor said.

"This will have a significant impact on household budgets across the country. There are many millions of Australian workers that rely upon penalty rates."

“This is an attack on the pay and rights of the hardest-working Australians. Employees who work on weekends must be paid properly,” said Dave Oliver, Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary.

“The Commission’s recommendations are out of step with Australian values, out of touch with the modern lives of working people, and would compromise future economic and productivity growth.

“If it is not Malcolm Turnbull’s intention to slash penalty rates he must rule out any future cut backs of these entitlements and make a submission to the Fair Work Commission that they be protected."

Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Rob Stott at rob.stott@buzzfeed.com.

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